Imprisoned Taraf reporter Mehmet Baransu continues his defense statement in latest hearing in the case
The eighth hearing in a court case against former journalists of the shuttered Taraf daily on the alleged publication of documents called “Egemen War Plan” was held on 2-4 May at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The court announced its interim ruling at the end of the three-day hearing, ordering continuation pre-trial detention of former Taraf reporter Mehmet Baransu and accepting requests from five ex-military officials to join the case as co-plaintiffs. The court also set 7-9 August as the date for the next hearing in the case.
Baransu, the only imprisoned defendant in the case who has been in pretrial detention since the beginning of the investigation in March 2015, continued his defense statement at the hearing.
Baransu defended his career as a journalist, saying police and intelligence reports portray him as not existing before Taraf. “This is why I will tell you about my journalism. I have given 23 years of my life to this profession, I am a journalist,” Baransu told the court.
Rejecting accusations that he had received instructions and information he used in his reports from members of what authorities call the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the group led by Fethullah Gülen that is accused of being the mastermind of the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, Baransu said he acted on behalf of the public. “FETÖ did not give me orders. I work on behalf of the public. This is what the law obligates me to do,” he said.
Referring to accusations that many of the stories he penned, including those on the alleged coup plots of Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon, were a part of conspiracy, Baransu said: “There is a mentality in this country based on impunity. When you write about it, they call it conspiracy.”
He also admitted that he regretted having spent his years on journalism: “I gave my life to journalism. Do I regret it? Deeply. It wasn’t worth it.”
Noting that a newspaper report is merely a tip-off for the judicial authorities and that it was up to the prosecutors to whether or not to launch criminal cases based on a news report, Baransu said he, as a journalist, would only write what he sees.
Baransu also defended his reports on the so-called Balyoz coup plot case, saying he was firmly convinced that the plan existed.
“Back in 2002, the ruling [Justice and Development Party] was not expected to come to power. It was certainly not expected to come to power with a parliamentary majority big enough to change the Constitution. This is why Balyoz coup plan was drafted,” he said. He also claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the prime minister, was aware of the coup preparations before Taraf reported on them. The plans, he said, were given to Erdoğan by former Chief of General Staff Hilmi Özkök.
“I write what I see. Balyoz was a coup plan to the core. There was a warrant for the arrest of Erdoğan. This is not a lie,” he said. “I wrote what I heard, what I saw and my opinions formed around them. I still believe that Balyoz was a coup plan. Mistakes might have been made, but I believe it was the fact,” said Baransu.
Baransu also rejected allegations that the Ergenekon investigation was launched upon reports published in Taraf, saying no report on the investigation appeared in Taraf before February 2008, several months after the probe first began.
“I didn’t target the military”
Dismissing suggestions that his reports on Balyoz, Ergenekon and other investigations aimed to undermine the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) cadres, Baransu said: “When they fail to explain their unlawful actions, they try to distract public attention from the real issue. This is the main reason behind the false impression that some circles are trying to create.”
Baransu also responded to accusations directed against him and Taraf newspaper in connection with reports published in the now-defunct daily on alleged coup plot investigations. “They say you had Kuddusi Okkır killed. Okkır was jailed on 23 November 2007. Taraf did not even exist at that time,” he said. “They say you are responsible for the imprisonment of [journalists] Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener. Our headline at that time was ‘Is this Ergenekon?’”
Okkır, a businessman, was arrested and jailed as part of the Ergenekon investigation in June 2007 and died of cancer five days after he had been released pending trial in July 2008. Turkey agreed to pay compensation to his family in an out-of-court settlement after the family had applied to the European Court of Human Rights saying Okkır’s right to life and fair trial had been violated.
Baransu argued that military’s dominance over politics ended thanks to Taraf. As to the fact that most of the military commanders charged and even convicted in Balyoz, Ergenekon and similar cases were later acquitted as a result of retrials, he said: “I am not in a position to try them. You have acquitted, but this has not changed my opinions.”
Lawyer for Yıldıray Oğur, a former executive of Taraf who is one of the defendants in the case, briefly took the floor on the second day of hearing, accusing Baransu of “slandering” her client and requesting the panel of judges to intervene. Lawyer Gülçin Avşar said Baransu was making remarks that could be construed as “insulting” and “insistently distorting my client’s remarks.”
Lawyer Cinmen: Indictment must be returned
Lawyer Ergin Cinmen, who represents former Taraf executives Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar, criticized the way the indictment lays out the charges, saying even though it consists of some 279 pages, it is hard to understand what the defendants are accused of.
Cinmen said the case, even though widely believed to relate to publication of the alleged Balyoz coup plan documents, was about the removal of secret documents about the so-called Egemen War Plan from the First Army Command and their delivery to Baransu, who then reported on them in Taraf.
Cinmen pointed out that the Constitutional Court, in a judgment on an application from Baransu on his pre-trial detention, has established that the Egemen War Plan documents were in fact never published by Taraf.
The court also heard former military commanders who submitted requests to join the case as co-plaintiffs.
Retired Colonel Suat Aydın said he had spent nearly four years in Silivri Prison because of the Balyoz trial and that he had come to understand why when he read Baransu’s book, called Karargâh (The Headquarters).
Aydın also said the war plans and seminars cited in the reports about the alleged coup plans were “routine exercises.”
Retired Admiral Kadir Sağdıç accused Taraf of having the “same vision as foreign forces’ vision” while retired Staff Colonel Dursun Çiçek, who is now a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said he wanted to join the case in the name of fair trial.
The prosecutor requested that the requests from the retired military officials be accepted, while Baransu’s lawyer said his client was not responsible for any violation of confidentiality in the course of the said coup plot investigations and that no one had been harmed directly as a result of his client’s actions.
Lawyer Cinmen also objected to requests to join the case as co-plaintiffs, saying there should of course be co-plaintiffs if there is a crime and damage that ensued from it but that this case is not about the actions that, according to the ex-commanders, caused harm.