ABDULLAH – Investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu

Investigative journalist Mehmet BaransuAs part of an intimidation campaign to muzzle free, independent and critical media in Turkey, the nationand#39s top-notch investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, who exposed the Turkish stateand#39s dirty laundry — from military coup plots to massive profiling of unsuspecting citizens by the political Islamist government, from the killing of 34 Kurdish villagers in Uludere by F-16 fighters on faulty intel to hazardous rice imports that implicated three Cabinet ministers — was arrested on trumped-up charges by a kangaroo court in the authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan.At 9 am on March 1, about 30 police officers from the Istanbul Police Departmentand#39s anti-terror unit raided Baransuand#39s home in Eyup and searched the premises for 12 hours before detaining him for questioning at the police station.

His wife, Nesibe, was on a trip at the time and heard the news from the television but was unable to reach her husband because police used jammers to cut off the phone signal during the search. In an unusual practice that is applied only to violent criminals or those who pose a flight risk, Baransu was handcuffed during his custody and taken back to the station when the search was completed at 9 pmFrom the start, it quickly became clear that the government wanted to make an example of this prominent journalist and use his face as a poster boy to intimidate other journalists.

The government has been harassing Baransu for the past year, during which he was detained five times before later being released. The repeated legal harassment Baransu has experienced at the hands of ideological zealots who abuse the criminal justice system to defame critics finally put him behind bars.

Instead of summoning him to court or the prosecutorand#39s office for questioning, something Baransu would have complied with, the government chose to raid his house with an army of police officers and dragged him out of his home in handcuffs.The detention warrant stems from his landmark investigative piece that was published in the liberal daily Taraf five years ago, which revealed a shocking plot called Sledgehammer that was concocted by a junta within the Turkish military to topple the civilian government.

On Jan. 20, 2010, Taraf published the damaging documents Baransu obtained from a government whistleblower that included among other things fomenting chaos in society through violent acts such as planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and BeyazIt mosques in Istanbul.

The revelations later prompted public prosecutors to launch a criminal case against those military officers involved in the plot. The Sledgehammer suspects were tried and many of them were convicted by the court, and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals as well.

In 2014, citing procedural violations, the Constitutional Court ordered a retrial of Sledgehammer convicts who were released pending a new trial.Now the Islamist government, which had benefitted politically from Baransuand#39s exposandeacute on the plot in 2010, wants to keep this investigative journalist behind bars simply because he continues to reveal the governmentand#39s dirty secrets ranging from corruption files to unconstitutional profiling by the intelligence agency.

The politically motivated case that was built up against Baransu has no standing in the law. For example, one of the charges leveled against Baransu by Istanbul Public Prosecutor Gkalp Kku, who leads the investigation, is for forming an illegal and armed organization to commit a crime in line with Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 220.

In Turkish law, at least three people have to be identified in a network to be qualified as an organization. Yet Kku fails to present any other name other than Baransu in the purportedly armed and terrorist organization.

There are no guns, no ammunition other than the journalistand#39s pen that can be presented as evidence in a court of law.Another charge against Baransu was cited in Article 327 of the TCK, which envisages three to eight yearsand#39 imprisonment for unauthorized people who acquire information regarding state security.

He was also charged under Article 326 of the TCK, which mandates eight to 12 years in jail for anyone who steals, destroys, damages or uses confidential documents in an unauthorized place. An additional charge based on Article 329 of the TCK sees five to 10 yearsand#39 jail for those who disclose documents relating to the security and political interests of the state.

In other words, Baransu was accused of revealing state secrets, which is a ridiculous charge in itself because a military coup, which is a constitutional crime, cannot be classified as a state secret and therefore disclosing such a plot is not a crime but rather a mandate of public interest for any journalist. That is why the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) rightly pointed out that if all investigative journalists were to be tried under Article 327 of the TCK, there would not be any journalists left to report in Turkey.

Baransu was not even questioned by the prosecutor Kku, who directly referred the journalist to the Istanbul 5th Penal Court of Peace for arrest, which was granted as expected. The journalistand#39s lawyer Ahmet Emre Bayrak complained that the prosecutor did not even bother talking to him about his clientand#39s investigation and that he had no idea about the extent or scope of the investigation, which was dubbed by the prosecutors as confidential.

During the police interrogation, Baransu and his lawyers were able to glean partial information on charges and evidence collected by the prosecutorIn police custody, Baransu was asked to identify his source for confidential documents, which he immediately declined. He was also questioned on his book andldquoKarargahandrdquo (Command Center), which was published in 2010 and revealed the armyand#39s plan to fight domestic threats with andldquocounter-guerillaandrdquo squads that were composed partially of civilians as part of unconventional or psychological warfare.

Baransu made clear that neither he nor his paper published any document that could put sensitive military operations and the lives of soldiers at risk. He said all original documents he obtained from his source were handed over to the public prosecutor and later morphed into the major criminal case, SledgehammerGovernment spin-doctors try to portray the prosecution of Baransu, or rather the persecution of the investigative journalist, as a restitution of justice for the Sledgehammer convicts, when in fact so much evidence discovered independently of Baransuand#39s writings corroborated secret plots cooked up by junta members in the military.

The senior generals were caught with their hands in the cookie jar and now lay the blame on the journalist who put the spotlight on them Political Islamists who realigned themselves with coup-plotting generals — former foes of President ErdoIan and his associates in the government who have now turned into allies — portray Baransu, once hailed as a hero, as a villain today.ErdoIan and his gang have gone after this investigative reporter, who has the caliber of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, with everything they have got including framing him by planting evidence in the home of his ex-wife.

The rule of law, the right to freedom of the press and the right to inform the public about government misconduct and wrongdoing have all been discarded by the Turkish government.The audio conversation that was leaked in March of last year revealed the mentality of the Islamists when it comes to upholding the rule of law.

In the recording, Interior Minister Efkan Ala was heard instructing Istanbuland#39s then-Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu to immediately detain Baransu for publishing what Ala says are secret state documents. andquotDetain him immediately,andrdquo he ordered the governor andldquoThere is no need for a warrant from a court, just break down the door and take that man [journalist Mehmet Baransu].

We can draft a new law and make sure what you do isnand#39t a crime. If the prosecutor [we ask to do this] objects, then take the prosecutor, too,andrdquo Ala was heard to say.

Alaand#39s illegal orders have been carried out today under the farce of legality in a kangaroo court setting that has been stacked with loyalists and partisans. Baransu was simply jailed for doing what an investigative journalist is supposed to do, which is to expose the dirt in a government whose main motive is to stonewall inquiries from reporters.

His unjust detention has a further chilling impact on investigative reporting in Turkey ahead of critical parliamentary elections. The overwhelming support his case has received from his colleagues, opposition political parties, rights groups, bar associations and international organizations is a testament to the innocence of Baransu.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman