ARTICLE 19 condemns the arrest of Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu, charged with disclosing state secrets, and calls on the Turkish government to immediately release him and drop the charges.
Journalist Mehmet Baransu, from the opposition daily newspaper Taraf, was arrested on 1 March 2015 on charges relating to disclosure of state secrets. In 2010 Baransu obtained documents which revealed plans for a military coup in 2003. Based on these documents, Taraf broke the story and submitted the documents to Turkish prosecutors, leading to the prosecution of hundreds of military officials. Some of those involved received sentences of up to twenty years in the famous ‘Sledgehammer’ case, which was credited for ending military involvement in civilian affairs, but also widely criticized for unfair procedures. In 2014 all suspects were released after a constitutional court ruled that the rights of the defendants were violated and a re-trial of the case is on-going.
Freedom of expression: a victim of behind the scenes political battles
The arrest of Baransu comes amidst increasing government harassment of opposition media in Turkey, in light of growing tensions between President Erdogan and the Gülen movement. ARTICLE 19 previously expressed concern that the arrests of journalists from the daily newspaper Zaman and the head of Samanyolu broadcasting group were politically motivated, given the lack of sufficient evidence brought against those arrested.
Taraf and Zaman, as media outlets, play an important role in investigating alleged government corruption and maintaining a diversity of voices in the Turkish press, but it seems that freedom of information and people’s right to know are becoming casualties of internal political tensions within Turkey. These cases highlight ongoing problems in Turkey regarding freedom of expression, the right to information and the rule of law.
“Mehmet Baransu should be immediately released and journalists should not be penalised for releasing information of legitimate public concern”, said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.
The crackdown on print media is occurring within a broader crackdown on freedom of expression. In the aftermath of the corruption scandal in December 2013, which implicated government officials close to Erdogan and members of his own family, there has been a crackdown on freedom of expression online. In February 2014, a controversial law came into force allowing the Turkish Telecommunications Authority to arbitrarily block websites, in some cases without having first obtained a court order. The law also provided scope for increased penalties on authors, content providers and content users. Data on the number of websites blocked is not public, but civil society groups estimate that more than 67,000 websites have been blocked by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority. In the run-up to municipal elections in March 2014, supporters of Gülen were accused of attempting to overthrow the government by posting fabricated evidence of government corruption on YouTube and twitter. The government then blocked YouTube and twitter in the whole country. The blocking was overturned by a constitutional court soon after the municipal election took place, but other attacks on online freedom continued. According to Twitter’s transparency report on the last six months of 2014, 1,820 tweets were withheld in Turkey, out of a total of 1,982 tweets withheld worldwide.