Opposition politicians and journalists are seen defending the rights of journalist Mehmet Baransu, who has been behind bars since March 2015 due to his reporting for the Taraf daily, in a short documentary released on social media as part of a campaign demanding his freedom.
The documentary was produced by the German-based International Journalists Association (IJA) and posted on Twitter in support of the social media campaign that was launched on Wednesday to demand freedom for Baransu.
The journalist was sentenced to 19 years, six months in prison last year due to his reporting on 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 and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In November 2020 Baransu was also sentenced to 17 years, one month on charges related to his report in 2013 on a National Security Council (MGK) decision concerning government plans to eliminate the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by teachings of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
“Mehmet Baransu got his hands on a written MGK decision and he published it; that’s journalism. It’s OK for judges, prosecutors and police officers to reveal government secrets, but when a journalist does it, the act is labeled as ‘treason’,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Tuncay Özkan says in the IJA video.
Independent deputy and prominent journalist Ahmet Şık says that “journalism” is the real reason behind Baransu’s arrest.
“He is accused of publishing a document whose authenticity isn’t denied by the General Staff. It was an act of journalism, and Baransu shouldn’t be imprisoned for that,” Şık adds.
“Baransu should be released pending trial,” Cumhuriyet daily columnist and former CHP deputy Mustafa Balbay says, adding that he wants a “fair trial” for the journalist.
“If a journalist thinks he has forged documents, would he hand over them to the government himself? Would a journalist who aims to share his government’s secrets with other countries also choose to disclose them on the front page of a newspaper?” journalist Yasemin Çongar asks.
Hashtags #FreeMehmetBaransu and #MehmetBaransuyaÖzgürlük (Freedom for Mehmet Baransu) became trending topics on Twitter on Wednesday, with tens of thousands of social media users posting messages under them as part of the campaign.
Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) label the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and accuse them of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt despite both Gülen and his supporters’ strong denial of any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activities.
Since the coup attempt, a total of 622,646 people have been investigated and 301,932 have been detained, while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Feb. 20. There are currently 25,467 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed on alleged links to the group, the minister added.