Reporters Without Borders deplores the arrest of Mustafa Balbay, Ankara bureau chief and columnist of the centre-left daily Cumhuriyet. After questioning him on 6 March, an Istanbul judge ordered his immediate detention on suspicion of supporting Ergenekon, an alleged clandestine network with links to the military and security forces that is accused of plotting against the current government.
Balbay has been charged under article 309 of the criminal code with “trying to overthrow the constitutional order by force,” which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
“There is so far no evidence for the charges against Balbay,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on the judicial authorities to conduct a proper investigation backed by solid evidence against him. In the meantime, we support the request for his conditional release which his lawyers submitted to the judge.”
Balbay was arrested in Ankara and taken to the Istanbul prosecutor’s office for extensive questioning about the serious allegations. According to the 95-page transcript of the interrogation, he is accused of “attending secret meetings of the organisation Ergenekon” and “possessing secret documents.”
Claiming there was sufficient evidence against him, the judge ordered him held in Istanbul’s Metris prison. He could be transferred in the next few days to Silivri prison, west of Istanbul, where all the other Ergenekon detainees are being held.
So far a total of 86 people have been charged in connection with Ergenekon, an alleged ultra-nationalist secular conspiracy against the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling Justice and Development Party has Islamist roots. Of those charged, 41 are being held in Silivri prison. Trial hearings began in October 2008.
Balbay was previously detained in July 2008 during a major police operation carried out in several cities. He was released after a few days.
Turkey is ranked 103rd out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.