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Five Turkish journalists sentenced in Libya spy case

Rash of sentences over case involving articles revealing details of Turkish spy killed in Libya
Demonstrators hold banners in support of jailed journalists on trial in front of a courthouse in Istanbul on 9 September 2020 (AFP)

Three journalists were released from prison in Turkey on Wednesday pending appeal after five others were sentenced in a case involving the alleged revelation of the identity of a Turkish spy killed in Libya.

Baris Pehlivan and Hulya Kilinc - editor-in-chief and reporter, respectively, for news site OdaTV - were ordered released late on Wednesday, along with Yeni Cag newspaper columnist Murat Agirel, after being held in pretrial detention for six months.

Pehlivan and Kilinc received jail sentences of three years and nine months for violating the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) law on coverage of the intelligence agency, while Agirel was sentenced to four years, eight months and seven days. All three are forbidden from leaving Turkey.

'I have been a journalist for 20 years. I have no intention to commit a crime'

- Hulya Kilinc, reporter at OdaTV

"What I have done is only journalism," Kilinc told the judge earlier during the trial.

"I have been a journalist for 20 years. I have no intention to commit a crime."

Istanbul's 34th Heavy Penal Court also sentenced Yeni Yasam daily editor Aydin Keser and the newspaper’s executive editor Mehmet Ferhat Celik - both of whom were released in June - to four years, eight months and seven days on the same charges.

OdaTV's news director Baris Terkoglu was acquitted of all charges. All six suspects were acquitted of exposing state secrets.

Excluding Terkoglu, five journalists are now released pending appeal, according to defence lawyer Serkan Gunel, speaking to AFP. Another journalist, Erk Acarer, a columnist for the left-wing BirGun newspaper, is currently abroad and is set to be tried separately in the case.

Libya spy controversy

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

Eren Ekinci, an employee of the municipality where the funeral took place, was acquitted on Wednesday, as well.

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

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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.

"So this is an arbitrary measure used to intimidate the editorial stance of the website."

Turkey has regularly been branded the world's worst jailer of journalists and is ranked 154th out of 180 countries on the RSF press freedom list.