Mehmet Baransu, a former correspondent for the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, was arrested in March 2015 for “obtaining and publishing” classified state documents in connection with the disclosure of a war plan called the Egemen (Sovereign) Operation Plan.
Baransu is charged with “Possession of documents classified as state secret,” “Exposing classified information crucial to state security and interests,” and “Damaging, procuring or stealing documents concerning the security of the state or using said documents outside their intended purpose” in the indictment for this case, overseen by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
It is one of dozens of ongoing cases against Baransu, who has perhaps been in prison longer than any of the currently imprisoned journalists in Turkey.
On 4 December 2017, the sixth hearing in the trial of former Taraf executives for “disclosing state secrets through publishing confidential documents” was heard by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The only jailed defendant in the case is Baransu, whose lawyer had resigned. A new lawyer was appointed for him by the state.
Former Taraf Editor-in-Chief Ahmet Altan, former Executive Editor of the same newspaper Yasemin Çongar and Managing Editor Yıldıray Oğur are also defendants in the case, facing up to 52 years and six months in prison for “destroying, using outside the intended purpose of, and illegally acquiring documents related to the security of the state.” Another defendant, Tuncay Opçin, remains at large.
The eighth hearing of that case was held on 2-4 May 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Baransu continued his defense statement at the hearing.
The court announced its interim ruling at the end of the three-day hearing, ordering the continuation of Baransu’s pre-trial detention and accepting requests from five ex-military officials to join the case as co-plaintiffs.
The court set 7-9 August 2018 as the date for the next hearing.
The 10th hearing in this case was held on 1-2 November 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Baransu, the only imprisoned defendant in the case, and defense lawyers, as well as plaintiffs Dursun Çiçek and retired army Colonel Suat Aytın were in attendance.
Baransu made his defense statement during the two-day hearing. He explained to the court that his defense statement was taking too long to complete because some digital files he requested had only been delivered last week, and that he has also been busy preparing defense statements for numerous other ongoing cases against him.
Recounting to the court how he had received the four CDs that included the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup plan documents, Baransu said following the publication of the relevant news stories in Taraf, an investigation was launched and that he handed the said CDs to the prosecution. As for the alleged war plans that constitute the basis of the allegations in this case, Baransu said he has never seen any such document.
Continuing his defense statement on the second day of the hearing, Baransu said he had not been allowed to bring in the courtroom newspaper clippings and books to use in his defense. Adding that the said book constituted evidence, Baransu said his right to a fair trial was being violated.
After Baransu completed his defense, his lawyer Yahya Engin addressed the court. Noting that his client had been in detention on remand for almost four years, Engin called the court’s attention to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is about the right to liberty and security. Adding that the relevant law stipulated a maximum five years of pretrial detention, Engin requested that his client be released pending trial. Engin also asked the court to reject the plaintiffs’ requests for becoming intervening parties in the trial.
Announcing its interim ruling at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ruled to keep Baransu in pretrial detention and adjourned the trial until 3-4 January 2019 to allow additional time for the defense. The court later rescheduled the trial, setting 4 February 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
Baransu was expected to continue with his defense statement during the hearing on 4 February but he was unable to attend due to health issues.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to keep Baransu behind bars and set 22 and 25 March 2019 as the dates for the next hearing in the case.
Baransu continued presenting his defense statement at the next hearing, held over two days on 22 and 25 March 2019. Before beginning his defense statement, Baransu remarked on the numerous times the panel overseeing the case had changed throughout the trial. In its interim ruling at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ruled to keep Baransu in pre-trial detention and set 10 and 11 July 2019 as the dates for the next hearing. The court later announced that the next hearing would take place on 11 and 12 July 2019 instead of the originally planned date.
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul continued hearing Baransu’s defense statement at the 18th hearing of this trial held over two days on 11 and 12 July 2019.
After the completion of defense lawyers’ statements, the prosecutor requested the continuation of Baransu’s detention on remand. He also requested for a criminal complaint to be filed against Baransu on the charge of “insulting a public official” for calling a prosecutor “mentally deficient” during his defense statement.
Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin reminded the court that his client was in pre-trial detention as part of another ongoing case and therefore there were no legal grounds necessitating the continuation of his detention. He asked the court to release Baransu pending trial.
The court ruled for the continuation of Baransu’s detention while also ruling to separate the file against Baransu concerning the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” to be sent to the 2nd High Criminal Court of Mersin, where another case against the journalist is still under way. The court also ruled to hear Esra Konur, Baransu’s ex-wife, as a witness, and to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against Tuncay Opçin, the fifth defendant in the case.
The court set 27-28-29 August 2019 as the dates for the next hearing.
“2014 MGK headline” trial
Baransu is also on trial along with former responsible managing editor of Taraf, Murat Şevki Çoban, over a news report that was published in Taraf on 28 November 2013, titled “Gülen’i Bitirme Kararı 2004’te MGK’da Alındı” (Decision to finish off Gülen was taken by MGK in 2004). In the news piece, Baransu wrote about the Fethullah Gülen network being listed as a threat in a National Security Council (MGK) meeting that took place in 2004. Both journalists face up to 52 years in prison for a variety of charges as part of the case, including “divulging state secrets” and “exposing documents of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT).”
The 15th hearing of this trial took place on 27 June 2018 at Anadolu 10th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Addressing the court during the hearing, Baransu requested that the court send a writ to the General Staff asking for some documents to refer to in his defense statement. The court rejected the request. Since Baransu’s previous lawyer had just resigned, his recently appointed lawyer requested additional time to review the case. The court accepted the lawyer’s request and adjourned the trial until 17 October 2018.
At the 17th hearing held on 12 December 2018, neither Çoban, who had already given his statement, nor Baransu, who submitted a letter to be excused due to health concerns, were in attendance. Accepting Baransu’s excuse, the court adjourned the trial until 6 March 2019.
At the 18th hearing held on 6 March 2019, Baransu and his lawyer both submitted letters of excuse. Granting additional time for Baransu and his lawyer to prepare his defense statement, the court adjourned the case until 19 June 2019.
The 19th hearing took place on 19 June 2019.
Baransu was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs by the gendarmerie from Silivri Prison. In attendance were Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin, Çoban’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu and the lawyer representing MİT and the National Security Council, Serhat Karğın.
The hearing took off with the prosecutor informing that he has recently been appointed to the case and he requested the case file to be sent to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for changes to be made in the final opinion. Karğın requested the trial to be finalized in accordance with the final opinion submitted back in 2016.
Baransu told the court that he was tried and acquitted on the same charge before and he requested the case to be rejected.
Addressing the court after Baransu, Çoban’s lawyer Çalıkuşu said that her client cannot be held responsible for the article because the byline was clearly stated in the report and the indictment was submitted after the expiry of the four-month statute of limitations for pressing charges. Çalıkuşu informed the panel that Çoban’s final defense statement would be presented at a later time.
The court decided to send the case file to the prosecution for the preparation of the final opinion and adjourned the trial until 24 September 2019.
“Football match fixing” trial
Mehmet Baransu also faces charges in a “match fixing” trial, heard by the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. In addition to Baransu, who reported on match fixing claims and findings, the former chairman of the now-closed Samanyolu Broadcasting Group Hidayet Karaca and the former editor-in-chief of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Ekrem Dumanlı, are being tried over allegedly “conspiring with FETÖ to influence the outcome of matches.”
The defendants in the case are facing terms of imprisonment ranging from eight to 85 years in jail for alleged “deprivation of liberty,” “violation of communicational secrecy,” “violating secrecy of private life,” “counterfeiting official documents,” “violation of privacy,” “using other’s identity card or ID information,” “perjury” and “establishing and leading an armed terrorist organization.”
Baransu is also jailed pending trial as part of a separate case concerning his reporting in 2013 on an alleged customs fraud involving genetically modified rice. The indictment accuses Baransu of “attempting to overthrow the government” and “membership in a terrorist organization.” This case is overseen by the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court.
Baransu is still in detention on remand in the Silivri Prison in Istanbul, facing nearly a thousand years behind bars as part of dozens of different cases.