Taraf Newspaper, for 9 days starting from January 20th, 2010, published news stories claiming that some groups within Turkish Armed Forces plotted a military coup. In the news articles, it was claimed, “They would bomb the Fatih Mosque”, “They were going to shoot down our own jets” and “Taraf seized the 2003 coup plans by a junta led by 1. Army Commander Çetin Doğan.”
This series of news articles, which set the political agenda in Turkey, was signed by Mehmet Baransu, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur. Baransu handed over a suitcase full of CDs, DVDs and approximately 5 thousand pages of documents concerning the allegations to the then-Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor of Istanbul.
Afterwards, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) investigation. At the end of this trial, 325 defendants, including military commanders Çetin Doğan, Özden Örnek and İbrahim Fırtına were sentenced to aggravated life sentences. However, the case was retried in 2015, and 236 defendants were acquitted.
Furthermore, an investigation was started against those who had penned the news articles.
A prosecutor with Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Terrorism and Organized Crime Bureau, launched an investigation, claiming that a plot was organized against the defendants who were acquitted in the “Balyoz” Coup Plan trial.
As part of this investigation, Baransu was detained on March 2nd, 2015. His house was searched for about 23 hours. His documents and the hard disk of his computer were confiscated.
The detention procedures at the police took about 6 hours. He was asked 28 questions. Baransu said that a person he came across on the street gave him the documents in question. He stated that he did not know this individual who introduced himself as a retired soldier. Baransu stated that he was a reporter and did not have the authority to decide on the headlines of the newspaper. Baransu presented the following defense at the police:
“We did not print or report on any document that could jeopardize the military maneuvers of the Republic of Turkey. Some of the documents handed to me in the suitcase did include information on documents such as war plans.”
After his police interrogation, Baransu was taken to the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan. The prosecutor’s office did not take Baransu’s statement. He was instead referred to the court with a request for his arrest for this file. The request for arrest was based on the charges of “establishing an organization for the purpose of committing a crime”, “destroying documents relating to the security of the state, and its internal or external political interests”, “procuring documents that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests” and “disclosing documents that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests.”
Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur were not detained, and they were free after the interrogation at the prosecutor’s office.
Altan said that, as a journalist, he is only interested in the coup plot, and that he did not come across any secret military operation plans by the state or the military.
The indictment against Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Baransu, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and an individual who is not a journalist was completed on June 7th, 2016, one of the prosecutors at the Istanbul Terror and Organized Crimes Investigation Bureau.
The 276-page indictment featured as complainants the retired four-star general Çetin Doğan, retired vice-admiral Kadir Sağdıç, retired major generals Ahmet Bertan Nogaylaroğlu, Albay Nedim Ulusan and retired colonels Ahmet Zeki Üçok and Hakan Büyük, who had stood trial during the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) Plan trial, as well as the Turkish General Staff, and claimed that a conspiracy had been organized them during this trial.
In the indictment, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Baransu, Yıldıray Oğur and Yasemin Çongar were charged with “acquiring and publishing the top-secret ‘Sovereign Action Plan’ belonging to the General Staff.
In the indictment, Mehmet Baransu was charged with “establishing and leading an armed organization” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 314/1 and Anti-Terror Law, Article 5.
Baransu was also charged with “destroying, misusing, stealing or manipulating documents relating to the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests”, “procuring information that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests” and “disclosing documents that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests,” as per Turkish Penal Code Articles 326/1, 327/1 and 329/1. The indictment alleged that Baransu committed all these crimes continuously, and thus, pursuant to Turkish Penal Code Article 43, demanded that his prison sentences be aggravated by one fourth to three fourths.
In total, Baransu faces 35 to 75 years in prison.
Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur were charged with “destroying, misusing, stealing or manipulating documents relating to the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests”, “procuring information that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests” and “disclosing documents that must remain confidential for the state’s security, and its internal or external political interests,” as per Turkish Penal Code Articles 326/1, 327/1 and 329/1. The indictment further alleged that the journalists committed all these crimes continuously, and thus, pursuant to Turkish Penal Code Article 43, demanded that their prison sentences be aggravated by one-fourth to three fourths.
Each of these journalists faces in total 20 years to 52 years 6 months in prison.
The indictment was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
The first hearing of the trial was held on September 2nd, 2016 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The first hearing was attended by the defendants not under arrest Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur and the defendant under arrest Mehmet Baransu.
In the first hearing, Altan, Çongar and Oğur were exempted from the hearings, in other words, they were relieved of their obligation to attend the hearings. At the subsequent hearings of the trial, the journalists were represented by lawyers.
However, about 1 week after this hearing, Ahmet Altan was detained within the scope of an investigation concerning his columns, and the arguments he presented in a television program, before the military coup attempt on July 15th, 2016. Altan was arrested in September 2016 under the scope of the said investigation and is in prison pending trial since then.
The second hearing of the trial was held on November 23th, 2016. Baransu presented the following defense:
“I have been under arrest for 22 months on charges of disclosing state secrets. I’m still behind my news story. Even the President, Prime Minister and ministers of the period called it a coup. Even Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, recently talking about Balyoz, has said ‘It is totally real.’ If my news article constitutes an offense, then President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Yıldırım and the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation should also stand trial.”
The 18th hearing of the case was held on July 12th, 2019, and Baransu presented the following defense at the hearing.
“I have been imprisoned for four and a half years due to this file. I’ve already served too long. God put me in prison and God will bring me out, that’s what I believe. I might have made mistakes, and I did apologize. I have served more than necessary; actually you are indebted to me.”
Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, the lawyer of Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar, also made remarks during the hearing. Stating that there was confusion about the charges in the trial, Çalıkuşu stated,
“This case is not about the Sledgehammer-related news published on Taraf newspaper, nor the CDs about Sledgehammer. The Turkish Armed Forces has announced that the CD’s are counterfeits. This case is indeed about the documents that were not included in the Sledgehammer case in the 4th High Criminal Court.”
The 25th hearing of the trial was held on December 12th, 2019. At this hearing, Baransu’s ex-wife E.K. was heard as witness. K. said that she “did not have any impression of nor had been witness to Baransu’s any possible ties with FETÖ”. In the hearing, E.K.’s father was also heard as witness. Ö.K. said “I know him as a journalist. Mehmet Baransu is a complete journalist.”
The court ruled that the case file be sent to the prosecutor’s office for the drafting of the judicial opinion as to the accusations.
The 26th hearing of the trial was scheduled for April 8th, 2020. However, the hearing was postponed to June 3rd, 2020 due to the measures against the “coronavirus” pandemic. Nevertheless, this hearing had to be postponed again for the same reason, and was scheduled for August 11th-12nd-13th, 2020.
The 29th session of the trial was held on August 11th, 2020. Although the journalists and lawyers were taken to the courtroom, the panel of judges and the hearing prosecutor were not present. The court clerk announced that Mehmet Baransu, imprisoned pending trial, would not attend the hearing. Meanwhile, the clerk started to write down the hearing report. The lawyers of the journalists indicated that the hearing report could not be written until the panel of judges was seated. The clerk then stated that the president of the panel of judges had to take her wife to the hospital, and that the hearing was therefore adjourned until the next day. In reaction, the lawyers met with the other judges in the panel. After a brief talk, it was announced that the trial would resume at 14:00 on the same day, rather than the following day. On the other hand, it was stated that a lawyer had been requested for Baransu from Istanbul Bar Association.
The hearing, scheduled for 14:00, started instead at 14.30. It was announced that the panel of judges and the hearing prosecutor were on duty only temporarily. Baransu did not attend the hearing. Istanbul Bar Association rejected the court’s request for a lawyer for Baransu, stating that “Baransu already has a lawyer”.
At the hearing, the lawyers and the hearing prosecutor said they had nothing to say. Thereupon, it was decided to resume the trial with the 30th hearing on August 12th, 2020.
The lawyers then asked if the postponed hearing would start on time or not. The president of the panel of judges said that the hearing would start at 10:00. In response, the lawyers reminded the president that he had been at the hospital in the morning. Upon this, the president said “I was not at the hospital, I was in the courthouse all day long. We requested a lawyer for Mehmet Baransu. I was waiting for him”, to the surprise of everyone.
The 30th session of the trial was held on August 12th, 2020. Mehmet Baransu, imprisoned pending trial, attended the hearing from prison via the so-called Audio and Video Information System, or SEGBİS. Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar were represented by lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu, and Yıldıray Oğur by lawyer Gülçin Avşar.
The president said that, between the two hearings, Baransu had submitted a 87-page petition including his demands to the court. Baransu stated at the hearing that he wanted to make a counter statement against the witness statements. However, the court president told Baransu that it would not be right for him to present a defense without his lawyer. He asked him to present his defense accompanied by his lawyer, and Baransu accepted.
The lawyers and the hearing prosecutor demanded that the deficiencies in the file be completed.
The next hearing has been scheduled for October 12th-13th-14th, 2020. The president stated that at the next hearing, the hearing prosecutor would present his opinion as to the accusations.
The 30. hearing of the trial took place on October 12th-13th-14th, 2020; however, the prosecutor’s judicial opinion as to the accusations was once again not submitted. Two members of the panel of judges had changed.
Mehmet Baransu attended the trial via SEGBİS, from the prison where he is held. In the courtroom, he was represented by his lawyers Yahya Engin and Dilara Yılmaz. The journalists Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar did not attend the trial and were represented by lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, while journalist Yıldıray Oğur was represented by his lawyer Gülçin Avşar.
Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin indicated that Mersin 2. High Criminal Court sentenced Baransu to 19 years, 3 months in prison on July 19th, 2020. “We request the court to reach an interim verdict. In Mersin, Mehmet Baransu has already been sentenced in a trial. Since an individual cannot be sentenced twice for the same crime, İstanbul 23. High Criminal Court will dismiss its trial in the next hearing. We likewise request the court to drop the charge of ‘membership of a terror organization.’”
Arguing that he was “the victim of a conspiracy”, Baransu reiterated his demand for the expansion of the investigation. He submitted to the court the voice recordings found in his home and said, “I am accused of talking to Fethullah Gülen. Yet there are no such voice recordings found in my home. They have been instructed to arrest me and muzzle me”.
Baransu said the following as regards the claim that he had destroyed certain documents:
“Nowhere in my statement at the military prosecutor’s office did I say, ‘I destroyed the original documents since they were top secret’. I want the court to hear as witness the police officers who drafted the police enquiry report and their chief. When the prosecutor’s office summoned me, I handed over all the documents I had, including written documents and CDs. It is claimed that the ‘Egemen’ Action Plan was found in those CDs. I never came across such a plan in those CDs. 12 expert witnesses examined those CDs; where were the plans in those CDs?”
At the second hearing held on October 12th, 2020, Baransu stated, “I was sentenced to 19 years, three months in Mersin for two news reports. That file is nastier than this file. They fabricated fake documents. I have stayed in prison for too long. I have already been sentenced for membership. You cannot sentence me again for that. Even if you were to release me, I cannot leave, I have other convictions. I demand a verdict of release.”
The court ruled to continue Baransu’s imprisonment.
The court rejected Baransu’s request that certain pieces of evidence be excluded since they were “obtained in an illicit manner“. However, the court ruled to request a copy of the search and confiscation orders in question from İstanbul 1. Criminal Court of First Instance. In line with the request of Baransu and his lawyers, the court ruled to request a copy of the prison sentence against Baransu from Mersin 2. High Criminal Court.
The trial will continue with the 31st hearing on December 9th, 2020.
Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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