Turkey Pulse

Turkish journalist charged with espionage

Article Summary
The Turkish Prime Ministry, National Security Council and the National Intelligence Organization all filed criminal cases against the daily Taraf and its staff writer Mehmet Baransu for publishing a highly classified state document.

On Nov. 28, Mehmet Baransu of Taraf published a copy of an August 2004 National Security Council (NSC) advisory ruling urging the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to finish off the prestigious Fethullah Gulen religious movement, and curb its activities both in Turkey and abroad. Since the publication of this document, it has become obvious that the repercussions differ from the experience of the Ergenekon trial process. 

I reported for Al-Monitor on Dec. 2 the details of the leaked document and pointed out that it was none other than Baransu who, in January 2010, broke the news that played a pivotal role in ending the military’s tutelage over civilian politics. This news sent 237 current and retired military personnel to prison on charges of engaging in terrorist activities with the aim of overthrowing the Erdogan government in 2002 and 2003 (the coup never took place). An unidentified person had delivered a suitcase full of secret documents to Baransu back then, just as an unidentified person recently delivered a suitcase full of secret documents with the 2004 NSC document.

The government is more sensitive today than it was back then about the leak of classified documents. This time, however, the prime minister’s office, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the NSC all filed on Dec. 4 criminal complaints under the anti-terror law against Taraf and Baransu. The prosecutor is asking up to 30 years in prison for Baransu.

Nese Duzel, executive editor of Taraf, wrote a Dec. 6 editorial addressing the issue. “It is only the municipal marching band and the fire department that are missing in the ... criminal case filing against us,” she wrote. “[The government] demands the courts with special authority silence us and throw us in jail. It must be a scary feeling to hide the real truth from the people, isn’t it? You are so scared that the truth will come out.”

She added: “The military tutelage, where you’re now adapting its old tricks, had also tried to silence us. ... It looks like you haven’t understood who we are. ... This newspaper is not afraid of this kind of intimidation, we’re used to it. If you’re threatening to send us in jail ... we will go behind bars and will come out as honest and honorable people. But if you happen to be jailed, how will you come out of it?”

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Huseyin Celik argued Dec. 5 that the document was leaked from inside the MIT. “It does not matter whether it is Hakan Fidan or Ahmet or Mehmet who leads [the MIT], but it is impossible for it to relinquish its old habits in such a short period of time. The MIT has a pool where it gathers information about people who need to be investigated. Based upon this data, and if there is any need, they pass along this information to the related state institutions. I have talked to the top echelon of MIT, and they told me this information has not been shared with any of the state institutions. It’s clear that someone or some people within inside the MIT have leaked the document to this daily.”

Government spokesman Bulent Arinc was, however, the first to hint that there could be a potential court case filed against Taraf and Baransu. “Let me put this very clearly. This document might have been opened to signatures, but it has never been implemented. The Prime Ministry never took action based upon it. If there is anyone who is going to counter my statement, they need to bring on new documents.”

He added: “It is illegal to share NSC documents publicly. It’s legally not possible for a journalist to do that. The only thing that can be shared with the public is the statements put out after the meetings. ... There is a penalty for those who violate this rule of law. Our prosecutors should think about this.”

Erdogan’s chief policy adviser Yalcin Akdogan also came to the defense of his boss, arguing there are forces that, ahead of the fast-approaching elections, aim to hurt the prime minister politically. “The AKP was perceived as a reactionary threat. The state prosecutor opened a court case asking its closure [in 2008]. The AKP has done nothing besides protecting its survivability and others like it. If there is any victim in all of this, it is the AKP. Due to its hard work, all the religious movements have taken a free breath. It has changed the perception of domestic threats.”

He added: “It’s simply unjust to position the AKP against religious movements. We knew that there would be a defamation campaign against us ahead of the elections.”

There is, however, no challenge to the authenticity of the NSC document, as had happened at the Ergenekon trial with CDs and audio recordings that were largely accepted as forgeries, even though they played a critical role in the conviction of military personnel.

In brief, there seems to be a double standard applied to the leakage of classified information when the subject matter is the military. The government has now decided to go by the book and is trying to convince the people that, although they have put their signatures on this document with the aim of ending the Gulen Movement, they have not implemented it. The people, in the end, will have the final word at the ballot box in the March 2014 local election or in the general election scheduled for 2015.

Found in: turkish politics, turkish military, turkish media, recep tayyip erdogan, national security council, intelligence, ergenekon

Tulin Daloglu has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.