Journalist Mehmet Baransu sentenced to 17 years for publishing leaked gov’t documents

An İstanbul court on Monday sentenced jailed investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, a former correspondent for the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, to 17 years, one month in prison for publishing leaked government documents, Turkish media reported.

The İstanbul 2nd High Criminal Court convicted Baransu of “disclosing information that must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security or domestic and foreign political interests of the state through the press” in a news report published in Taraf on November 28, 2013 titled “The Decision to end Gülen was reached at the National Security Council [MGK] in 2004.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group highly critical of him, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Fethullah Gülen of masterminding. He locked up tens of thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigations as well as journalists who reported on them. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

MGK documents published by Baransu showed that, contrary to what Erdoğan claimed, the government had been targeting the Gülen movement long before 2013.

The Taraf newspaper, shut down in 2016, gained prominence for its liberal stance and its extensive reporting on the operations of Turkey’s deep state, which is alleged to be a group of anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, including high-level figures from the Turkish military, security agencies and judiciary as well as the mafia.

Baransu was arrested in March 2015 for allegedly procuring and publishing secret state documents in connection with the disclosure of a war plan called the Egemen (Sovereign) Operation Plan.

A Mersin court handed down a prison sentence of 19 years, six months to Baransu in July on three separate charges with the claim that he had published classified information with “terror motives” and not for purposes of journalism. He was convicted of “violating privacy,” “disclosing classified information” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization” over his 2013 reporting for Taraf of an alleged customs fraud involving the import of genetically modified rice by a pro-government businessman, which he claimed was hushed up by then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 174 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 wanted and are either in exile or remain at large. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest since 2015.

Incarcerated in Silivri Prison in İstanbul, Baransu faces nearly a thousand years in jail as part of scores of other cases.

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