Turkey releases three journalists arrested for revealing state secrets

(Releads with court rulings, release of three journalists)

A Turkish court ruled on Wednesday for the release of three journalists imprisoned over a report on the funeral of a Turkish intelligence officer killed in war-torn Libya, news site Artı Gerçek reported.

Yeni Yaşam’s managing editor Ferhat Çelik, his editor Aydın Keser and OdaTV editor Barış Terkoğlu were released from police custody on the first day of a trial of seven journalists accused of violating state intelligence laws.

Six of the journalist have been in pretrial detention since March.

The journalists separately face up to 19 years in prison on two separate charges, violating Article 329 of the Turkish Penal Code on the “Disclosure of Information Relating to the Security and Political Interests of the State,” and Article 27 of the Law on MİT, which states that “those who obtain documents and information concerning the MİT’s duties and operations shall be sentenced.”

The Istanbul court ruled the other journalists in the case - OdaTV’s Barış Pehlivan and Hülya Kılınç and Yeniçağ newspaper’s Murat Ağırel - to remain behind bars, Artı Gerçek said.

In his statement to the Istanbul court, Çelik said 95 percent of Turkey’s media was under state control, and he was only doing his job as a journalist.

“The MİT law ties the hands of journalists. How can I know who is a member of MİT and who isn’t head of time?’’ Artı Gerçek news site quoted Çelik as saying.

The journalists were put on trial despite the MİT officer’s identity having already been made public by a member of the opposition Good Party in February.

Yeniçağ columnist Ağırel in his court statement accused Turkish authorities of leaking confidential information about his legal case, thereby creating a public misconception.

Ağırel also questioned the charges against him.

"The first person to announce that MİT was operating in Libya was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,’’ he said.

"So does this mean that president has committed a crime according to law No. 2937 (the MİT law)? Is there a clause in the law that exempts the president?’’ the columnist said.

Deputies from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, journalists, heads of NGOs and members of press unions were present for Wednesday's trial.

Other defendants in the case include Eren Ekinci, the municipal press officer in the western town of Akhisar, where the funeral took place, and self-exiled journalist Erk Acarer.

The Turkey representative for press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, Erol Önderoğlu, on Wednesday called for an urgent end to the journalists’ detentions. 

“These journalists, who work for OdaTV and for the Yeniçağ and Yeni Yaşam daily newspapers, have no place being in prison. All the charges against them must be dropped,” Önderoğlu said.