Six journalists — three in jail and three on bail — are facing lengthy jail terms in an indictment focusing on leaked emails from Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and president Erdogan’s son-in-law. The first hearing in their case will be held on 24 October at Istanbul Çaglayan Courthouse.
Dawn raids were conducted on 25 December 2016 following an investigation into Albayrak’s leaked emails. Tunca Öğreten, a former editor of Diken, an opposition news portal in Turkey, Ömer Çelik, the news editor of the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency and Mahir Kanaat, an employee of BirGun, a left-wing opposition newspaper, were sent to prison without charges after 24 days in custody while Derya Okatan, Eray Sargın and Metin Yoksu were released on bail.
RedHack, a group of Marxist hackers, admitted responsibility for the cyber attack in September 2017 and added a number of Turkish journalists to a private Twitter direct messaging group without anyone’s consent. Once the minister’s emails were made public, journalists then reported about the leak, filtering the information based on the public’s right to know.
“State secrets” on a personal email account
Based on the contents of the emails, Tunca Ogreten reported about Albayrak’s alleged executive role in an oil transportation company called PowerTrans (which still operates in the Kurdish Region of Iraq).
Long before the leaks, a suspected link between Albayrak and PowerTrans had already made the news after the Turkish government granted a special status to the company – an allegation officials strongly denied.
After three journalists – Celik, Kanaat and Ogreten – spent seven months in pretrial detention, without knowing what they have been charged with, prosecution finally filed an indictment in July, claiming that the information in Albayrak’s personal (Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo) email accounts could be considered as “state secrets depending on circumstances”.
The prosecution also accused all journalists of manipulating contents of the emails, without explaining how, and alleged that they tried “creating a negative perception for the failure of [Turkey’s] national energy policy”.
Ogreten appealed against claims about his alleged links with DHKP-C, an extreme leftist armed group, listed as a terror organisation in Turkey, however, the prosecutor dismissed his rejections and insisted on his guilt by association, arguing that RedHack was connected to DHKP-C, therefore, so was he.
Adding to the obscurity of charges, Ogreten is also accused of committing crimes on behalf of FETÖ/PDY, the pro-Islamic network led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Ankara recently named as a terror organisation.
The only evidence the prosecutor sets forth for this allegation is Ogreten’s previous work experience in Taraf, a pro-Gulen newspaper, where many of today’s popular pro-government columnists have also written for.
Taraf newspaper was among dozens of media outlets that the Turkish government shut down in statutory decrees, based on their alleged links with terror groups, including the Gulen organization, or FETO, that Ankara claims masterminded last year’s coup attempt.
Daily BirGün’s employee accused being a member of FETO
The indictment includes no reference about BirGün’s coverage of the RedHack leaks but makes a note that Mahir Kanaat, one of its employees, followed RedHack’s accounts on Twitter.
In an apparent ideological contradiction, Kanaat is also accused of being a member of the pro-Islamic FETO movement, based on two Word documents found on his mobile.
Both documents are copies of the official police investigation records about the 2013 graft probe that entangled several cabinet ministers and President Erdogan’s close relatives. The government accuses FETO-linked police having triggered the probe and prosecutors often present documents regarding the probe found in devices as a proof of suspects’ organizational links.
In Kanaat’s case, they pointed at the date on both documents, saying it showed a time before the probes were made public, leading to an accusation that the journalist had an early access to FETO-linked police documents through his organisational connections.
What is dismissed here, however, is that Word documents always come with an unchangeable creation date that keeps reappearing even if one downloaded them today. Therefore, an early access is a baseless accusation, used only to frame the journalist.
Furthermore, the prosecutor also turned a blind eye on BirGun’s highly consistent and critical coverage of Fethullah Gulen, the leader of FETO.
A mishmash of accusations
Omer Celik, the Diyarbakir bureau chief and editor of the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, is another journalist accused of spreading “propaganda of a terrorist organization” through his tweets.
His work relationship with DIHA, one of the outlets that were shut down by the government in a statutory decree for their alleged terror links, is the only evidence presented in the indictment.
Three other journalists, Okatan, Sargin and Yoksu who were released on bail, are also accused of spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.
Okatan and Sargin, two news editors, are accused of ‘guilt by association as tweets in question were sent on company accounts, not private accounts. Majority of the tweets that are quoted in relation to charges set against Yoksu are news updates.
The indictment that centres around the RedHack leaks of Berat Albayrak’s emails includes journalists who did not even report about the leak.
In a cocktail of accusations, all journalists are presented in alleged links with various terror organisations, in a wide range of ideologies from pro-Islamist FETO to Marxist-Leninist MLKP.
The indictment also accuses all six journalists of “intercepting and disrupting information systems, and destroying or altering data” without providing any explanation as to what or how exactly they have intercepted or altered the data.
A separate case for Deniz Yücel
Although Deniz Yucel, the Turkey correspondent of Germany’s Die Welt, was issued an arrest warrant as part of the investigation looking into the RedHack leak, he was posed no questions about RedHack.
Yucel has been kept in solitary confinement for nearly a year, without any official charges. His reports about the Kurdish conflict were presented as the reason for his arrest in February.
The first hearing is on 24 October
Despite all apparent contradictions in the indictment, Mahir Kanaat, Omer Celik and Tunca Ogreten have been in jail for 296 as of 16 October 2017.
Six journalists, including those that were released on bail, will stand in court for the first time after almost a year.
There are more than 170 journalists in Turkish jails now. No matter how many cases that makes, we need your uninterrupted support in defending all. These hearings, as frequent as they are, should never be treated as commonplace.