Number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey rises to 85

The detention of the journalist Müyesser Yıldız earlier this week raised the total number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey to 85, Voice of America said on Friday.

Yıldız, the Ankara news editor for the online outlet OdaTV, was detained on Monday

She was initially detained on espionage charges but this was later changed to revealing state secrets over articles written about Turkey’s military intervention in Libya, lawyer Erhan Tokatlı told Reuters. Yıldız could face a prison term of five to 10 years.

One article under investigation, published in December, questioned which Turkish commanders met with rebel general Khalifa Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army is fighting the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord.

A second article, from January, gave details about a military officer who was sent to oversee Turkey’s military intervention in Libya. 

İsmail Dükel, Ankara representative of broadcaster TELE1, was detained this week under the same investigation, but has been released, Anadolu news agency said.

In a statement sent through her lawyer, Yıldız said that her reporting on the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 was really at the core of the investigation. 

“Someone is very afraid that the backstage of July 15 will be questioned and they are trying to prevent this,” she said. 

Critics say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the failed 2016 coup as a pretext to clamp down on dissent and strengthen his grip on power. Turkey says its measures are necessary to safeguard national security.

In a 2018 piece, Yıldız was sentenced to 7,080 liras ($1,050) for insulting Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar after she cited a secret witness in a trial related to the coup attempt who said Akar a was a member of the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of attempting to carry out the failed ousting.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu last month targeted Yıldız on Twitter after she disputed the minister's claim to have eliminated militant group Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) faction in the eastern province of Kars, accusing her of "teaming up with terrorists".

Yıldız was imprisoned in 2011 for over a year on charges of terrorism, incitement, and obtaining secret documents, in a six-year trial in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government known as “Ergenekon.” All defendants in the trials were later acquitted.

OdaTV, which has a left-wing nationalist political stance, has often been critical of Erdoğan’s government. Yıldız is one of four OdaTV journalists currently in prison. 

Barış Pehlivan, editor-in-chief of OdaTV, was arrested in March, as were the outlet’s Istanbul news manager Barış Terkoğlu and reporter Hülya Kılınç, over a report covering the funeral of a Turkish intelligence officer who died in Libya.

Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told Reuters that such cases damage Turkey's international reputation and that the detention of journalists aims to silence criticism.

"Turkey, which is one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world, needs to make peace with criticism, transparency and the values of an open society," he said.