A Turkish court on Wednesday convicted five journalists over their reports on a Turkish intelligence officer killed in Libya and sentenced them to more than three years in prison but released them pending the appeals process, The Associated Press reported.
The five journalists, from the Odatv news website, the pro-Kurdish Yeni Yaşam newspaper and the nationalist Yeniçağ daily, 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 Barış Pehlivan and reporter Hülya Kılınç were sentenced to three years, nine months in prison, while Yeni Yaşam Editor-in-Chief Ferhat Çelik and editor Aydın Keser, and Murat Ağırel, a columnist for Yeniçağ, received four years, six months, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Odatv editor Barış Terkoğlu 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 BirGün newspaper, is abroad and will be tried separately.
Pehlivan, Kılınç and Ağırel, the only defendants who were kept in pre-trial detention, were ordered released on Wednesday but have been barred from leaving the country. The other defendants were released in June.
All 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,” Kılınç 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] MİT and it was not possible for me to know that.”
Özgür Özel, 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,” Özel 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, along with China and Saudi Arabia.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 175 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.