Mehmet Baransu, Murat Şevki Çoban - “MGK News” Trial

On November 28, 2013, Taraf newspaper penned an article titled “Gülen’i Bitirme Kararı 2004 MGK’da Alındı” (“The Decision to Finish Gülen Taken at the National Security Council (MGK) in 2004”), which cited a document about the MGK meeting dated August 25, 2004.

After the news story was published, the Prime Minister’s Office, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and MGK filed a criminal complaint against Taraf newspaper in December 2013. After Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office reached a decision of lack of jurisdiction, the criminal complaints were forwarded to Istanbul. Subsequently, an investigation was launched against Mehmet Baransu, a reporter at Taraf Newspaper, and Murat Şevki Çoban, the then-managing editor of the newspaper.

Following the publication of the news story, the then-government spokesman and minister in charge of media relations, Bülent Arınç said, “This is not journalism but disrespect.” The then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated, “Should we go on and make such revelations, too? The world would tremble. The state has hidden secrets, which must not be disclosed to anyone. This has nothing to do with the freedom of press.”

The trial is underway at the Istanbul Anadolu 10th High Criminal Court.

At the first hearing on June 3, 2015, Mehmet Baransu was in Silivri Prison for another offense. He couldn’t attend the hearing due to an illness.

His lawyer Sercan Sakallı said, “In the current trial, my client has published this news story in order to protect public interest, and this is in conformity with the constitution.”

The lawyer requested that a letter be sent to National Security Council (MGK) to learn whether there was an administrative or judicial investigation on this issue, and another letter be sent to the Turkish Parliament for the related parliamentary questions to be answered. The court accepted both requests.

At the second hearing on September 9, 2015, Baransu’s lawyer Serkan Sakallı and the lawyer of both defendants, Veysel Ok, demanded that the case be dropped since the statute of limitations stipulated in the Press Law had expired.

The lawyer for the complainant National Security Council stated, “The case has nothing to do with press or freedom of press. The indictment refers to articles in the Turkish Penal Code. We see malicious intent here. The secret documents of the state were disclosed via the press with malicious intent.”

The lawyer for the other complainant, National Intelligence Organization, also requested the rejection of defense lawyers’ demands. Prosecutor, likewise requested the rejection of the demands in question. The panel of judges obliged.

Mehmet Baransu stated that he would make a defense on the procedures, and also requested time to draft a defense against the accusations.

The panel of judges accepted the requests of the National Security Council - Secretariat General and the Undersecretariat of National Intelligence Organization to participate in this public case.

At the third hearing on November 17, 2015, the lawyers requested again that the case be dropped as per the Press Law. Baransu stated that he agreed with his lawyers. The panel of judges again rejected the request.

Baransu indicated that for this hearing he was taken from prison at 11:00, he had not eaten anything, it was 18:00 and he could barely stand, and that he would not present a defense.

At this hearing, the court ordered that Çoban be exempted from all the hearings, and that letters be sent to the National Intelligence Organization, Turkish Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior to learn whether any judicial or administrative investigation was launched as regards the document in question.

At the fourth hearing on March 10, 2016, Baransu stated that the lawsuit had not been filed within the four-month period stipulated by the Press Law.

At the fifth hearing on April 19, 2016, Baransu’s lawyer stated that the hearing had started 3.5 hours late, and requested the postponement of the hearing so that the defense would not be divided. The court accepted the request.

At the sixth hearing on May 2, 2016, Baransu started to present his defense. The defense was recorded with the court videoconferencing system SEGBIS. In his additional defense against a possible accusation pursuant to Turkish Penal Code Articles 334/1, 336/1 (“Obtaining and disclosing confidential information”), Baransu pleaded non-guilty and stated that he was simply doing his job.

At the seventh hearing on September 22, 2016, the prosecutor stated that even if additional time were given to them as regards the charge of “Obtaining and disclosing confidential information”, Mehmet Baransu and Murat Şevki Çoban had to be sentenced separately for the other charges in the indictment, such as “Obtaining documents relating to state security”, “Disclosing documents relating to state security”, “Disclosing documents relating to the duties of the MİT.” Prosecutor, requested that Baransu and Çoban be imprisoned for a period of from 21 years, 9 months to 47 years, 6 months pursuant to Articles 326/1, 329/1, 43/1 of Turkish Penal Code and Article 27 of MİT Law. Baransu said he disagreed with the judicial opinion of the prosecutor.

The eighth hearing of the case was held on November 9, 2016. Baransu’s lawyer Ahmet Emre Bayrak indicated that his client had been taken from prison in the early hours of the morning, had not eaten anything, and was unable to present a defense. Baransu stated that he was not delivered all the documents in the file, and demanded extra time. The court accepted the request to give him extra time for the defense, because the hearing normally scheduled for 14:00 had started at 18:30.

At the ninth hearing on February 8, 2017, Baransu could not be brought to the hearing because he had been transferred to the Adana F-Type High Security Closed Prison.

Baransu was brought to the 10th hearing on April 19, 2017. At this hearing, Baransu requested that the NSC document, the “FETÖ Umbrella Indictment” published in Hürriyet newspaper, Report of the Parliamentary Commission for the Investigation of the Coup, the minutes of “Internet Memorandum”, and some newspapers be added to the file. His request was rejected.

At the 11th hearing on July 5, 2017, Baransu stated, “The court has rejected all the documents that I requested to be included in the case. I’m trying to gather the documents together. It takes much time due to the state of emergency and my imprisonment; I have difficulty in accessing documents.”

On October 25, 2017, the 12th hearing was held. Stating that he had been transferred to the hospital due to an illness, Baransu indicated that the treatment would last long: “I had prepared all my documents. Then they confiscated the documents I was going to present to you. They seized the books. If the court writes an official letter, I will be able to present my evidence.” The court ruled that the documents that Baransu claimed were seized by the prison administration be presented to the court.

Baransu could not attend the 13th hearing on January 9, 2018, due to another trial at the Istanbul 23th High Criminal Court.

At the 14th hearing on March 21, 2018, Baransu’s defense lawyer resigned. Baransu stated that he would hire another lawyer. Baransu was given time for his final defense.

Baransu and his new lawyer Yahya Engin attended the 15th hearing on June 27, 2018. Baransu requested some documents from the court. His lawyer demanded time, stating that he had been recently appointed to the case.

Baransu could not attend the 16th hearing held on October 17, 2018 due to another trial of his at a separate court. He could not attend the 17th hearing on December 12, 2018 and the 18th hearing on March 6, 2019 due to health issues.

He attended the 19th hearing on June 19, 2019 without a lawyer. He indicated that he had previously been tried and acquitted at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance and Ankara 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance for this file. He requested that the case be rejected and dropped since the statute of limitations had expired.

A new prosecutor was appointed to the case. The court ordered that the case be referred to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for the opinion as to the accusations.

At the 20th hearing held on September 24, 2019, the prosecutor claimed in his judicial opinion that the crime was committed via the press and requested that the case be referred to the 2. High Criminal Court for lack of jurisdiction.

At the 20th hearing of the case on September 24, the court gave extra time to the lawyers to prepare a statement against the prosecutor’s opinion.

Murat Şevki Çoban did not attend the 21th hearing held on October 24, 2019. Çoban’s lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu, Mehmet Baransu and Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin presented a defense against the prosecutor’s opinion. The court decided to send the case to the prosecution for the drafting of the opinion as to the accusations.

Murat Şevki Çoban did not take part in the 21st hearing at October 24th, 2019. Hoban’s attorney Figen Çalıkuşu, Mehmet Baransu and Baransu’s attorney Yahya Engin presented their defences against the opinion as to the accusations. Board ruled to send the files to the prosecution to prepare the opinion as to the accusations. Next hearing of the case was held at December 4th, 2019. Court Board ruled that the case was to be sent to Anatolian 2nd Assize Court which was in charge of the press-related crimes.

The 23th hearing of the case could not be held on 2 June 2020 s planned. The trial, postponed to 17 July 2020 due to Coronavirus pandemic measures.

The 24th hearing of the trial was held on July 17th, 2020. Baransu attended the hearing from prison via the videoconferencing system dubbed Audio and Video Information System (SEGBİS). Murat Şevki Çoban did not attend.

Baransu reiterated his defenses from the previous hearings. He stated that the case file ought to be dropped as per Article 26 of Press Law, as the lawsuit had not been opened within the four-month deadline stipulated therein. Baransu said, “I learned why my lawsuit was not dropped due to lapse of time. The president of the court said to another lawyer that my case would lapse any way, and wanted him to ask my lawyer whether he would accept money. That lawyer was arrested on another charge and came to Silivri Prison, and that’s when he explained it all to me.”

Stating that the news that he covered in his articles had been previously published by other newspapers, Baransu presented these news stories to the court.

The hearing prosecutor submitted to court his judicial opinion as to the accusations, where he requested that Baransu and Çoban be sentenced for “To obtain documents or their copies related to the state’s security or its domestic or foreign political interests” and “to disclose documents or their copies related to the state’s security or its domestic or foreign political interests”. As per Article 27 of National Intelligence Organization Law, the prosecutor also requested that the journalists be sentenced on charges of “disclosing via the media documents and information about National Intelligence Organization’s functions and activities”. Furthermore, he claimed that these crimes were committed “continuously”, and thus demanded that the prison sentences be aggravated by one fourth to three fourths.

Lawyers requested extra time to draft a defense against the judicial opinion.

The 25th hearing of the trial took place on November 13th, 2020. The president of the court did not allow observers to the courtroom citing measures taken against the coronavirus pandemic. The journalists on trial did not attend the hearing. The trial was adjourned. The panel of judges declared that a verdict would be reached in the next hearing.

The 26th hearing of the trial took place on November 23rd, 2020. The president of the court did not allow observers to the courtroom citing measures taken against the coronavirus pandemic. As such, the details of the hearing are based on the hearing minutes and the information provided by lawyers.

Journalist Mehmet Baransu attended the hearing via the Audio and Video Information System (SEGBİS) from Silivri Prison in Istanbul, where he is held. In the courtroom, Baransu was represented by his lawyer Yahya Engin. The other defendant, journalist Murat Şevki Çoban, not under arrest, did not attend the hearing. In the courtroom, Çoban was represented by his lawyer Figen Albuğa Çalıkuşu.

Lawyer Figen Albuğa Çalıkuşu said that the identity of the author of the article in question was clear, and that her client was innocent. “There is no evidence that Çoban obtained the documents in question with a special effort or participated in the actions of the other defendant. There is no allegation in the indictment to this end, and no such evidence was presented during the trial," she added.

Baransu referred to statements by the Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül pointing to the need for reform in the judiciary. “What did Abdülhamit Gül say?” he asked: “‘Let justice be served, come what may.’ I await justice from the court now. They sentenced me to 19 years for my news story on GMOs. It was about health, and I had simply penned a story. Now that there is talk of reform and justice, I demand that these start here and now.” Baransu requested his acquittal.

Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin stated that the charges against Baransu have be to considered in the context of the Press Law. Engin said that the prosecutor demanded a sentence as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 326, however, it was not explained why the said article is mentioned: “There is no action of obtaining a secret document here. Indictments are based on false information. There is no crime here; on the contrary, my client uncovered a crime.” Engin said that they in fact requested his acquittal, and that the trial ought to be dismissed as per Press Law.

The court announced its verdict.

The court acquitted journalist Murat Şevki Çoban from the charges of “obtaining documents or their copies related to the security of the state, and its domestic and foreign interests” and “obtaining information and documents related to the duties and activities of National Intelligence Organization.” The court based this verdict on the argument that “there was no tangible and credible evidence that Çoban acted in collaboration with Mehmet Baransu to commit any crime”.

The court also acquitted Çoban from the charges of “disclosing secret documents related to the security of the state, and its domestic and foreign interests” and “publishing, disseminating and disclosing information and documents related to the duties and activities of National Intelligence Organization”.

The court sentenced Mehmet Baransu for “obtaining documents or their copies related to the security of the state, and its domestic and foreign interests”. The sentence was reduced by one sixth, considering “Baransu’s past, lack of criminal record, and the possible effects of the sentence on his future,” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 62. As a result, Baransu was sentenced to three years, four months in prison for this charge. The court justified the verdict with the argument that “The news article was published as the headline story of a nationwide newspaper”.

Baransu was sentenced to a further six years in prison for “disclosing secret documents related to the security of the state, and its domestic and foreign interests”. The court ruled that the crime “was committed more than once at different times”, namely “in a continuous manner”. As such, the sentence was extended as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 43. Then this sentence was also reduced by one sixth as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 62. In total, Baransu was handed down a prison sentence of six years, three months for this charge.

Baransu was also sentenced to five years in prison for “obtaining information and documents related to the duties and activities of National Intelligence Organization”, and the sentence was subsequently reduced to four years, two months in prison.

Furthermore, Baransu, was handed down a prison sentence of four years for “publishing, disseminating and disclosing information and documents related to the duties and activities of National Intelligence Organization”, yet the sentence was later reduced to three years, four months.

In total, Baransu was sentenced to 17 years, one month in prison based on four charges.

Contact: pressinarrest@gmail.com

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