Mehmet Baransu, a former correspondent for the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, was arrested in March 2015 for procuring and publishing secret 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 December 4, 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 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 pretrial detention, and accepting requests from five ex-military officials to join the case as co-plaintiffs.
The court set 7-9 August 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 March 22 and 25 as the dates for the next hearing in the case.
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.”
Baransu is still in detention on remand in Silivri Prison in Istanbul, facing nearly a thousand years in jail as part of dozens of different cases.