New target of gov’t oppression: Outspoken journalist Baransu

ISTANBUL: As part of the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) repression of the media, journalist mehmet baransu — an outspoken critic of the government — was arrested on Monday, after his home was searched for 12 hours by Istanbul police officers on Sunday, over documents he submitted to prosecutors in 2010 about the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plot.

After a request by Istanbul Public Prosecutor Gokalp Kokcu, Baransu was arrested by the Istanbul 5th Penal Court of Peace on Monday afternoon.

Baransu’s lawyer, Ahmet Emre Bayrak, told Today’s Zaman on Monday that Baransu is accused of establishing an organization with the aim of committing crimes and of destroying documents related to state security. As the only member of the alleged organization, Baransu was also accused of revealing secret state documents, Bayrak added. Bayrak said that as a reporter for the Taraf daily in 2010, Baransu didn’t have any authority to decide the daily’s headlines.

“While the managing editor and editor-in-chief should be the main suspects if there is anything wrong with Baransu’s stories, it is only Baransu whose house has been searched and who has been detained several times [since March 2014],” Bayrak said, adding, “The wolves want to eat the lamb.”

The infamous Sledgehammer case targeted the military’s top brass and was initiated based on documents released by Baransu and published in the Taraf daily on Jan. 20, 2010. Baransu gave a number of CDs purported to reveal coup plans by military officials and their collaborators to a prosecutor.

Siddik Filiz, one of Baransu’s other lawyers, provided further information and said the legal action against Baransu was part of an investigation presided over by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office based on a ruling from an Istanbul 1st Penal Court of Peace judge.

According to Filiz the Istanbul Police Department’s Counterterrorism Unit carried out the search at Baransu’s home where he was detained and taken to the Istanbul Police Department following the completion of the search that began at 9 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m.

Filiz said the basis of the investigation is “reasonable suspicion,” a controversial practice that makes it possible for authorities to make arrests or searches against a person without necessarily having tangible evidence.

In 2012, some of the suspects in the Sledgehammer case were convicted and sentenced to jail terms of up to 20 years on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. According to the indictment, the military was trying to systematically foment chaos in society through violent acts, among them planned bomb attacks on the Fatih and Beyazit mosques in Istanbul. The plot allegedly sought to undermine the government and lay the groundwork for a coup d’état.

As per a law passed by Parliament in March 2014 that reduced the maximum period of detention to five years, all suspects, including politicians, retired and working army officials, journalists and businessmen in the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon coup plot cases were also released pending trial. According to political analysts, these releases are a sign of the government’s strategy to mend ties with individuals connected to the Ergenekon case, and therefore with the army top brass, in order to fight against the faith-based Gulen Movement, also known as the Hizmet movement.

The AK Party government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuse members of the Gulen Movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, especially those within the judiciary and the police force, of attempting to overthrow his government since a graft probe became public on Dec.17, 2013 implicating the inner circles of Erdogan and the AK Party. The government has not provided any evidence, but on numerous occasions then-Prime Minister Erdogan described the ongoing corruption investigation as a plot against the government.

According to what Today’s Zaman has learned, the investigation against Baransu is based on an ongoing investigation regarding claims that the military coup trials were a “conspiracy” against the accused military officers. Many retired military officers, including the prime suspect in the Sledgehammer case, retired Gen. Cetin Dogan, have so far testified as “plaintiffs” in the investigation. The search of Baransu’s house is thought to be connected to the complaints made by the accused members of the military.

The argument that the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup trials were a “conspiracy” was first raised by a former prime minister’s senior political adviser, now Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan. He wrote in an op-ed in late 2013 that the convicted military officers had been framed by groups within the judiciary. He also claimed that the same group was allegedly orchestrating a widespread corruption probe against the government, referring to a major corruption and bribery investigation that implicated senior state officials, bureaucrats and pro-government businessmen on Dec. 17, 2013.

Reactions mount against Baransu’s arrest and police raid on his home

Meanwhile reactions have mounted against the raid and search of Baransu’s home. A lawyer of some of the accused in the Sledgehammer trial, Celal Ulgen, criticized the search, saying it would have been better if Baransu had been invited to testify, adding that police should stop searching the homes of suspects in every investigation.

Yildiray Ogur — a columnist for the Turkiye daily and a former managing editor of Taraf daily who wrote about the sledgehammer coup attempt along with Mehmet Baransu and Yasemin Congar — wrote in his column on Monday that “if writing about the sledgehammer coup attempt is a crime, that means I am also guilty.” According to the Constitution and the rulings of the Court of Cassations, reporting about a document a journalist has acquired is not a crime, Ogur added.

However, despite being a strong pro-government journalist since he left Taraf in April 2013, Ogur said they wrote the stories based on the documents Baransu had. “Despite the fact that the documents have been proven to be false, I am ready to testify if reporting about the Sledgehammer [coup attempt] is a crime.” Ogur wrote.

Progressive Journalists Association (CGD) Chairman Ahmet Abakay told Today’s Zaman on Monday that even though he is critical of Baransu’s revealing the documents he had been given, it is condemnable to detain any independent journalist, adding that he and CGD will stand with and support independent journalists.

Baransu has frequently faced prosecution for insulting President Erdogan and government officials as well as for releasing confidential government documents. The journalist has been detained, charged and released four times over the past year in connection with these accusations, with some of the related trials still pending.

Posting on their official Twitter accounts, the Media Ethics Council (MEK) and the Journalists and Writers Foundation condemned detaining Baransu for his journalistic activity.

In a written statement condemning Baransu’s detention, Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir said on Monday that Baransu is the latest example of the AK Party government trying to silence critical journalists. Esendir stated that Baransu’s arrest is a part of AKP’s policy of intimidation that cannot be accepted.

Posting from their official Twitter account, the Journalists and Writers Foundation also condemned the arrest of Baransu for his journalistic activity.

‘I revealed the documents that unearthed the individuals planning to overthrow the ruling government’

In his testimony to police in the Istanbul Police Department on Monday, Baransu said he wrote about those who planned to overthrow the ruling government and take control of cities by force.

Baransu told police that he was given 19 CDs and four DVDs, which became the main evidence for the Sledgehammer case, to Turan Colakkadi who was the chief public prosecutor in Istanbul at that time. Baransu stated that there was official correspondence among these documents between military generals who were planning to arrest many high-ranking state officials, including then-President Abdullah Gul, then-Prime Minister Erdogan, mayors of important cities and members of the ruling AK Party.

Rejecting the allegations that he prepared the CDs and DVDs, Baransu said it is impossible to prepare a document that has authentic signatures and seals and that he had handed over the original documents to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and Military Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara.

When asked about the claims that he revealed top secret state documents, Baransu explained that he didn’t reveal any state document other than those of the individuals who planned to overthrow the ruling government.