Seven journalists went on trial in Turkey’s Istanbul on Wednesday, accused of revealing state secrets for their reports on the funeral of an intelligence officer who was killed in Libya.
The journalists from Odatv news website, the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yasam and the nationalist daily Yenicag have been charged with violating national intelligence laws and of revealing secret information. If convicted, they face between eight and 19 years in prison.
Odatv editor-in-chief Baris Pehlivan, editor Baris Terkoglu, reporter Hulya Kilinc and Yeni Yasam newspaper’s editor-in-chief Ferhat Celik and news editor Aydin Keser were charged over their reports on the intelligence officer who died in February as well as Turkey’s military activity in Libya.
Murat Agirel, a columist for Yenicag, and Erk Acarer, a columnist for the left-leaning BirGun newspaper, are accused of revealing the intelligence official’s identity on social media. Acarer is abroad and will be tried in absentia.
Eren Ekinci, an employee of the municipality where the intelligence officer’s funeral took place, is accused of providing information to the Odatv reporter.
The prosecutors have accused the defendants, who have been held in pre-trial detention since March, of acting “in a systematic and coordinated manner.” Critics of the case say the intelligence officer was previously identified during discussions in Turkey’s parliament and that his name and involvement in Libya were known.
In the opening hearing, the defendants rejected the charges against them and requested that they be acquitted.
“I have been kept alone in a prison cell for 120 days over accusations of crimes that don’t exist,” Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Agirel as telling court. “The accusations against me are neither based on solid evidence nor would they fit anyone’s conscience.”
The paper also quoted Kilinc as saying: “As a local journalist, the existence of a martyr in the region and for the martyr to be buried without a ceremony, was an important issue that needed to be reported.”
Dozens of people gathered outside the courthouse in Istanbul to show solidarity with the journalists.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, has called on Turkey to drop the charges.
“Turkey should stop attempting to control independent journalism with intimidation, immediately free the arrested journalists, and drop this case,” the group’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, said in a statement on May 13.
The CPJ ranks Turkey among the top jailers of journalists worldwide.
About 80 journalists and other media workers are currently in jail under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws, according to the Turkish Journalists Syndicate, including many who were detained in a crackdown following a 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey maintains that the journalists are prosecuted for criminal acts and not for their journalistic work.