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Turkey: Journalists released from prison hours after returning to serve sentences

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Three prominent Turkish journalists were released from jail on Tuesday just hours after returning to prison over their coverage of the death of an intelligence officer in Libya.

Baris Pehlivan and Hulya Kilinc – editor-in-chief and reporter, respectively, for news site OdaTV – were sentenced to three years and nine months in jail in September 2020 for violating the law on coverage of the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), while Yeni Cag newspaper columnist Murat Agirel was sentenced to four years, eight months and seven days.

On Tuesday, after the three failed an appeal against the sentences on 28 January, they returned to Silivri prison in Istanbul to begin their sentences.

Just hours later, however, they were all released. Lawyer Huseyin Ersoz posted a picture on Twitter with Pehlivan and Agirel after leaving jail:

Translation: “This is our freedom pose!”

Opposition Republican People’s Party MP Alpay Antmen announced on Twitter that Kilinc had also been released.

The Third Penal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld their sentences and then reportedly ruled for their release due to the various amounts of time they had already spent in detention since first being arrested in March 2020.

Libya spy reporting

The charges stemmed from a number of articles in March 2020 that revealed photos of the funeral of an MIT operative who was among the first Turkish soldiers killed during military operations in Libya.

Turkey first sent soldiers and Syrian fighters to Libya in January that year to help bolster the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which had been under assault from forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar.

The journalists’ arrests were criticised, among other reasons, over the fact that the identity of the slain soldier was already in the public domain after an MP named him in parliament.

Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told Middle East Eye at the time that the arrests were an attempt by the government to “intimidate” OdaTV, which he said has long been a thorn in the government’s side.

“The government has not been happy with the editorial line defended by OdaTV for years when it came to the former coalition and cooperation between the government and Fethullah Gulen,” he said, referring to a former ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who is currently exiled in the US and wanted by Turkey for alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.

Onderoglu is himself facing potential jail time over his involvement as guest editor of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

Turkey has regularly been branded the world’s worst jailer of journalists and is ranked 153th out of 180 countries on the RSF press freedom list.

Source: Middle East Eye

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