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Journalist Baransu had ‘terror motives’ in publishing state documents, court says

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A Mersin court that handed down a prison sentence of 19 years, six months to jailed investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu on three separate charges said in its reasoned decision that he had shared classified information with the public with “terror motives” and not for purposes of journalism.

Baransu, who has been behind bars since March 2015, received the sentence in the case against staff of the defunct Taraf newspaper who were accused of obtaining and publishing state documents and of having links to a terrorist group.

He was sentenced 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.

In July, the investigative journalist was sentenced 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,” namely the Gülen movement.

President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) accuse the faith-based movement inspired by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and label it a “terrorist organization,” although the group strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

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

The Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court announced its reasoned decision on Wednesday, saying that Baransu “obtained classified information and documents from security units by means that could not be detected and shared them [with the public] in columns and tweets to create a public opinion in line with the plans of the organization.”

“The way he shared the information and the language he used [in his news reports] are beyond the boundaries of the right of the press to communicate,” the court further said in the decision.

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.

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

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists” in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

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