Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that an Istanbul court today ordered three online journalists detained on charges of “inciting hatred and hostility through the media,” membership of a “terrorist organization” and obtaining and publishing confidential state documents. They are facing possible sentences of more than 20 years in jail.
They are Soner Yalçin, the owner of the Oda TV news website, Baris Pehlivan, the site’s editor, and Baris Terkoglu, one of its reporters. They were arrested when counter-terrorism police raided the website’s Istanbul headquarters on the orders of prosecutor Zekeriya Öz on 14 February.
The “terrorist organization” referred to in the charges is Ergenekon, an alleged secret network of senior army officers, academics, businessmen and others who have been on trial since October 2008 on charges of plotting to use terrorist methods to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Öz is the prosecutor in charge of the Ergenekon investigation.
The homes of the three journalists were also searched on 14 February. A fourth Oda TV journalist, Ayhan Bozkurt, was arrested at the same time, but was released yesterday.
The searches and arrests were carried out after Oda TV questioned some of the judicial procedures use in the Ergenekon investigation and trial. Pehlivan was already prosecuted on a charge of “inciting hatred and hostility” in November 2008 after he invited the author of a book about torture to be interviewed by the TV station CNN Türk. He was acquitted.
During a CNN Türk programme following the searches, the head of the Istanbul bar association, Ümit Kocasakal, said the warrant used did not mention that the homes to be searched belonged to journalists. This was violation of Turkish legal procedure, he said.
Reporters Without Borders urges the judicial authorities handling this case to adhere strictly to the law. Journalists must be completely free to report information and express their opinions, even on such sensitive issues as the Ergenekon investigation. The justice system must respect the confidentiality of their sources, and thereby help ensure media freedom and independence.
Turkey is ranked 138th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.