A regional appeals court in İstanbul has reversed the conviction and 13-year prison sentence handed down to an investigative journalist who has been behind bars since March 2015 and ruled for his release from prison, although the journalist will remain incarcerated due to another conviction, Turkish media outlets reported on Monday.
The appeals court’s decision concerns journalist Mehmet Baransu, who was handed down a jail sentence of 13 years in March on charges of obtaining and revealing state secrets for allegedly reporting on a war plan.
Baransu and other journalists from the Taraf daily, its former editor-in-chief and author Ahmet Altan, former executive editor Yasemin Çongar and former managing editor Yıldıray Oğur were tried in connection with the disclosure of a war plan called the Egemen (Sovereign) Operation Plan, a then-defunct military war plan drafted by Turkey’s General Staff to respond to a Greek invasion.
In the last hearing of their trial at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court in March, Baransu was sentenced to 13 years on charges of possession of documents classified as state secrets and exposing classified information crucial to state security and interests, while Altan, Çongar and Oğur were each sentenced three years, four months on charges of obtaining documents related to state security.
At the time Altan and Çongar’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said the Egemen Operation Plan, dated 2003, was destroyed by the military in 2008, according to the country’s General Staff, making it impossible for the documents to have been obtained by the journalists in 2010. She said there is also an expert report stating that no news report was published about the content of the Egemen Operation Plan. She also said a military prosecutor’s office ruled that there were no grounds to further investigate whether this plan was leaked from the military because there was no evidence to that effect.
The journalists were given the prison sentences despite the fact that they did not obtain or expose the plan.
Baransu’s lawyer Çiğdem Koç said in remarks to the Turkish media that the regional appeals court’s decision had nothing to do with Baransu reporting on a coup plot, named Sledgehammer, although most media reports say so.
She said Baransu and the other journalists were tried on a war plan that was seen by nobody since it was destroyed in 2008.
Sledgehammer was an alleged coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) drafted in 2003. The military is claimed to have planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power.
Baransu reported on the plan in the Taraf daily in 2010 and handed over documents related to the coup plot to the prosecutors the same year, which led to the trial of dozens of military officers and generals.
The regional appeals court in İstanbul also ruled for Baransu’s release; however, Baransu must remain in prison due to a sentence of 19 years, six months handed down in 2020 by a court in the southern province of Mersin.
Baransu was given the lengthy jail sentence on three separate charges concerning his 2013 reporting of an alleged customs fraud involving genetically modified rice. He was charged with exposing classified information crucial to state security and interests, possession of documents classified as state secrets and membership in an armed terrorist organization, namely the Gülen movement.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
Baransu appealed the prison sentence at the Supreme Court of Appeals, which is still pending.
He is jailed in the notorious Silivri Prison in İstanbul.
Turkey, which is known as one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
Dozens of journalists were jailed in the aftermath of the coup attempt in 2016, while many media outlets were closed down.