On 4 March 2020, Odatv’s News Director Barış Terkoğlu was arrested in a raid on his home in Istanbul over an exclusive report published on Odatv on 3 March, containing photographs from the funeral of an intelligence officer who died in Libya, reporting that he had been “quietly laid to rest, without a ceremony.” The same day Hülya Kılınç, the Odatv reporter who covered the story, was also taken into custody in Manisa and brought to Istanbul.
Terkoğlu and Kılınç were accused of “obtaining documents and information concerning MIT’s duties and operations,” “facilitating the procurement of documents and information concerning MİT’s duties and operations” and “disclosing the contents of documents and information concerning MİT’s duties and operations” under Article 27 of the Law on the State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). After giving their statements to different public prosecutors at the Istanbul Courthouse, both journalists were jailed pending trial by a Criminal Judgeship of Peace on Duty and sent to Silivri Prison.
Meanwhile, access to Odatv was blocked late on 5 March by a decision of the Information Technologies and Communication Authority (BTK).
Odatv’s Editor-in-Chief Barış Pehlivan took to social media to point out that even though a week before the officer’s name had already been made public in parliament and several news outlets had reported on it, in their report the name of the officer had been changed. Terkoğlu cited the Constitutional Court’s judgment in the case of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, in which it was ruled that the rights of the journalists, who were also accused for publishing reports containing information (alleging that trucks belonging to MİT had carried weapons and ammunitions to Syria) already revealed by other media outlets, had been violated.
Pehlivan was called in for questioning in connection with the investigation into the report on 6 March. After he gave his statement to a public prosecutor at the Istanbul Courthouse, he was referred to a Criminal Judgeship of Peace, which also jailed Pehlivan pending trial on the same charges leveled against Terkoğlu and Kılınç. Pehlivan was sent to the Silivri Prison.
Also on 6 March, Yeni Yaşam daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ferhat Çelik, Responsible Editor Aydın Keser, editor Semiha Alankuş and Murat Ağırel, a columnist for Yeniçağ daily, were summoned by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to give their statements. The prosecution referred Çelik, Keser and Ağırel to a criminal judgeship of peace requesting their imprisonment pending trial. Alankuş was released following her statement. After hearing their statements, the 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace released Çelik, Keser and Ağırel under judicial control measures.
However, after the prosecution objected to their release over the weekend, Keser was taken into custody on 8 March while Çelik and Ağırel were summoned to the Istanbul Police Department. After being questioned at the police department, all three were brought to the Istanbul Courthouse, where they made statements once again as part of the same investigation, this time to the 5th Criminal Judgeship of Peace. The judgeship ruled to jail all three pending trial on the charge of “Disclosing the contents of documents and information concerning MİT’s duties and operations.” All three were sent to the Silivri Prison.
In April 2020, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office isued an indictment, accusing Terkoğlu, Pehlivan, Kılınç, Çelik, Keser and Ağırel and two others -- BirGün columnist Erk Acarer and Eren Ekinci, a press officer with the local Akhisar Municipality -- of "disclosing classified information crucial to the security and interests of the state” (Turkish Penal Code 329/1) and “exposing the contents of documents and information concerning intelligence operations” (MİT Law Article 27). The National Intelligence Organization was listed as the complainant in the 50-page indictment, accepted on 7 May 2020 by the 34th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which set 24 June 2020 as the date for the first hearing.
The full indictment, in Turkish, can be found here.
Release at first hearing
Terkoğlu made his defense statement during the first hearing of the trial, held on 24 June 2020. He said the only reason he was facing charges was because he was Odatv’s news director and that an “operation was being conducted against Odatv.” Terkoğlu also explained that the indictment referred to a Constitutional Court judgment where part of the top court’s ruling reportedly read “... even if the [information] has already been exposed…” but that there was no such statement in the said judgment.
In its interim ruling, the court ordered the release of Barış Terkoğlu, Aydın Keser and Ferhat Çelik under an international travel ban and the continuation of Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç and Murat Ağırel’s detention on remand.
Terkoğlu acquitted, five journalists convicted
The second and final hearing of the trial was held on 9 September 2020 at the 34th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The prosecutor, who submitted their final opinion to the court one day ahead of the hearing, asked the panel to convict Terkoğlu, Pehlivan, Kılınç, Çelik, Keser, Ağırel and Ekinci as charged and to separate the file against Acarer.
After hearing the defendants and their lawyers, the court issued its judgment. Terkoğlu and Ekinci were acquitted of all charges, while five of their co-defendants were found guilty of "violating the Law on the National Intelligence Organization." Kılınç and Pehlivan were sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison while Çelik, Keser and Ağırel were each sentenced to 4 years, 8 months and 7 days. Kılınç, Pehlivan and Ağırel were released under a ban on traveling abroad. Acarer's file was separated since his defense statement could not be taken.