Journalist Mehmet Baransu sentenced to 19 years, 6 months in prison

A Turkish court on Sunday sentenced jailed investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, a former correspondent for the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, to 19 years, six months in prison, Turkish media reported.

The Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court sentenced Baransu to two years in prison for “violating privacy,” to four years for “disclosing classified information” and to 13 years, six months for “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 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Baransu was acquitted of “obtaining personal data” and “slander” in the same trial.

Baransu worked as a correspondent for Taraf, shut down in 2016, which had reported extensively on the illegal operations of Turkey’s deep state aimed allegedly at creating chaos and putting the elected government in a political predicament.

He 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 and sent to the notorious Silivri Prison. That trial is still ongoing.

The genetically modified rice investigation as well as two corruption investigations in the same year — the so-called December 17 – 25 2013 corruption investigations — that implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle were attributed by Erdoğan to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group highly critical of Erdoğan, and portrayed as a coup attempt against the government.

President Erdoğan later designated the movement a terrorist organization and conducted a massive crackdown on real and perceived members of the movement, locking up tens of thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigations as well as journalists who reported on them.

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 177 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 168 wanted on fabricated terrorism charges have been forced to live in exile. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest daily as well as its most popular TV networks since 2015.

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