ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Wednesday convicted five journalists over their reports on the funeral of an intelligence officer who was killed in Libya and sentenced them to more than three years in prison, state-run media reported. But all have been released from custody pending the appeals process.
The five journalists from Odatv news website, the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yasam and the nationalist daily Yenicag, were among a group of eight defendants accused of violating Turkey’s national intelligence laws and disclosing secret information for their coverage of the funeral of the agent who was quietly buried in February.
Prosecutors charged that their reports revealed the officer’s identity and exposed other secret agents who attended the funeral.
Odatv editor-in-chief Baris Pehlivan and reporter Hultay Kilinc were sentenced to three years and nine months in prison while Yeni Yasam newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ferhat Celik, editor Aydin Keser and Murat Agirel, a columnist for Yenicag, received four years and six months, the Anadolu Agency reported.
Odatv editor Baris Terkoglu was acquitted of the charges along with Eren Ekinci, an employee of the municipality where the intelligence officer’s funeral took place, who was accused of providing information to the Odatv reporter.
Another journalist, Erk Acarer, a columnist for the left-leaning BirGun newspaper, is abroad and will be tried separately.
Pehlivan, Kilinc and Agirel, the only defendants who were kept in pre-trial detention, were ordered released on Wednesday, but have been barred from leaving the country. Other defendants were released in June.
All of the defendants had denied the charges and demanded their acquittal arguing that the slain intelligence officer was previously identified during discussions in Turkey’s parliament.
“What I did was journalism,” Kilinc told the court in her final defense on Wednesday. “I did not know that the photograph that was published contained (images of) members of (Turkey's national intelligence organization) MIT and it was not possible for me to know that.”
Ozgur Ozel, a legislator from the main opposition party, welcomed the journalists’ release, but said they shouldn't have been put on trial in the first place.
“It is journalism that is being put on trial in this courthouse,” Ozel told reporters. “The aim is to intimidate journalists who are outside, to warn them not to report and to ensure that their hands tremble when they do.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which had called on Turkey to drop the charges against the defendants, ranks the country among the top jailers of journalists worldwide, alongside China and Saudi Arabia.
About 75 journalists and other media workers are currently in jail under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws, according to the Turkish Journalists Syndicate.
Turkey maintains that the journalists are prosecuted for criminal acts and not for their journalistic work.