Case against Mehmet Baransu: “Vengeance, not justice”
Leading authorities and practitioners of investigative journalism have appealed to the Turkish prime minister to drop charges against their imprisoned colleague Mehmet Baransu.
Baransu, a correspondent for Taraf newspaper has been in custody for the past 11 months and still has not been informed of what he is accused. The signatories to the letter describe this as a use of pre-trial punishment for charges that cannot stand.
The letter itself is the work of academics and journalists who have contributed to a well-received anthology of investigative journalism entitled Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism. These include Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, and P. Sainath, the award winning Indian journalist who writes about rural famine.
The volume includes an article by Mehmet Baransu, from 2009, which documents the Turkish military’s attempt to cover up the death of four soldiers, the result of one being made to hold a live grenade as punishment for sleeping on duty. The letter describes that article as “an example of a state institution being held accountable by the very headlines it was used to manipulating.”
The full text of the letter is as follows:
1 February 2016
Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,
We the undersigned call upon the Republic of Turkey to release from prison and cease the criminal investigation against the journalist Mehmet Baransu who is being tried and incarcerated simply for practicing his profession.
The case against Baransu defies credulity and common sense – let alone fairness. Indeed, he is now been held in custody for eleven months without even knowing the charges against him – they are deemed to be too secret even to allow him to defend himself.
We do know is that he is being accused of offences tantamount to handling documents affecting state security. We can only assume these are on the basis of documents redacted back in 2010 which pointed to a coup attempt against the elected government. The authenticity of those documents was a question for the Turkish courts. Baransu willingly handed over the evidence he obtained to state prosecutors. This resulted in the so-called (and highly controversial) “Sledgehammer” trial.
In no civilised society are journalists arrested for revealing matters of public concern. This use of pre-trial detention is an attempt to punish him for a charge that cannot stand.
More to the point, the Turkish courts once zealously pursued the accusations in the documents Baransu revealed — arguably more than the evidence warranted. Many public figures charged in Sledgehammer were made to serve long periods of pre-trial detention. Commentators at the time accused the government of seeking a pretext to intimidate its opponents.
Since then, political expediencies have changed. The government turned the Sledgehammer trial on its head – labeling the defendants as victims and their prosecutors as the culprits. Baransu is being made the scapegoat in this game of judicial football. The case against him reeks of revenge and not justice.
Moreover, the case is part of a pattern of increasing judicial harassment of journalists in Turkey and those who would exercise free speech. Baransu is just one on a growing list of distinguished journalists who are being detained on flimsy pretext. These include the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül. Along with the indiscriminate use of gagging orders to restrict coverage of obvious matters of public interest, these cases ignore the media’s freedom—indeed obligation– to report what governments may find embarrassing.
The signatories to this letter come from many countries but are common contributors to an anthology of investigative journalism called Global Muckraking. It includes an article by Mehmet Baransu, from 2009, which documents the Turkish military’s attempt to cover up the death of four soldiers, the result of one being made to hold a live grenade as punishment for sleeping on duty. It is an example of a state institution being held accountable by the very headlines it was used to manipulating.
If that volume demonstrates one thing, it is that history sides with those who uphold the public right to know. It consigns to ignominy those who attempt to curtail the work of independently minded media by evoking a notion of national interest.
We urge the Republic of Turkey to restore the credibility of its commitment to a democratic future. A first step in convincing the world of its respect for the rule of law would be the release of Mehmet Baransu along with all imprisoned journalists and the dismissal of charges against him.
Anya Schiffrin, editor Global Muckraking, Director (IMAC) at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
Robert Barnett, Senior Research Fellow and Director, Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University.
Leopoldo M. Bernucci, The Russell F. and Jean H. Fiddyment Chair in Latin American Studies, University of California at Davis, University of California at Davis
Clifford Bob, Raymond J. Kelley Endowed Chair in International Relations, Duquesne University
Ying Chan, professor, Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong
Avi Chomsky, professor of history and coordinator of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts
Prue Clarke, Director, International Reporting Program, City University of New York, Graduate School of Journalism
Andrew Finkel, journalist and founder member P24, Istanbul
Nicolo Gnecchi, journalist and editor
Jordan Goodman, Honorary Research Fellow in the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College, London.
Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and chair of the Freedom of Expression Institute
Adam Hochschild, Lecturer, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley
James Hollings, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Massey University Wellington, NZ
Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines, University of California Riverside
Madhusree Mukerjee, writer
Angela Pimenta, columnist and president of Projor, São Paulo
Nicole Pope, independent journalist & writer, Istanbul
Erika Rodrigues, Project Manager, UX Information Technologies, Mozambique.
P. Sainath, author, journalist
Ernesto Semán, Assistant Professor, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond
Ken Silverstein, contributing editor, VICE columnist, New York Observer