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Turkey8 July 2008

All four journalists arrested in Ergenekon roundup now free but one, Mustafa Balbay is forbidden to leave country

All four of the journalists who were arrested in the 1 July police round-up of suspected members of the clandestine organisation Ergenekon have been freed. The last was Mustafa Balbay, columnist and Ankara bureau chief of the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet, who was released on the evening of 5 July. However, the prosecutor in charge of the Ergenekon case has appealed against Balbay’s release and has requested another warrant for his arrest. He is banned from leaving in the country and, according to an unconfirmed report, he could be charged soon. An Istanbul court is expected to rule on the prosecutor’s request soon.

Prosecutor Nihat Taskin began questioning Balbay on 4 July on suspicion of “belonging to an armed terrorist organisation” and “inciting armed insurrection against the government.” He appeared before an assizes court judge in Istanbul on 5 July and, after a two-hour hearing, was released at about 7 pm.

As he left the lawcourts, Balbay said he had never approved of any form of government other than democracy, that he never supported any coup, and that his journalism was evidence of this.

Balbay wrote about his interrogation in yesterday’s issue of Cumhuriyet, reporting that he was asked why he was in possession of confidential documents from the MIT (a Turkish intelligence agency), the military high command and the interior minister. He said the documents were sent to him by name at his Ankara bureau.

He said he told the judge : “I never used these confidential documents for any other purpose that the writing of a book and to evaluate them in my columns in order to inform my readers. Documents of this kind are an important source of information and can be found in the offices of most of my fellow journalists in the capital.”

The three other journalists arrested on 1 July - Ufuk Büyükçelebi, the editor of the far-right daily Tercüman, Erol Mütercümler and Murat Avar, a reporter with the state television station TRT - were released on 4 July by the Istanbul prosecutor’s office. It is not yet known if they could also be prosecuted. The Turkish media have reported that the 2,500-page Ergenekon indictment will be published shortly.

Nine people were reportedly charged yesterday, including two retired generals - Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur- and Ankara chamber of commerce president Sinan Aygün.

They are the latest people to be charged in the 13-month old investigation into the alleged Ergenekon plot, which - according to the authorities - aimed to promote a climate of terror and create the conditions for the moderate Islamist government’s overthrow in a military coup. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is currently also threatened by the possibility of a supreme court ban.

4 July 2008

Four journalists arrested in police swoop on group suspected of plotting coup

Reporters Without Borders has learned that four journalists were among the 25 people who were arrested at their homes in a major police operation carried out in Ankara, Istanbul, Trabzon and Antalya at 7 a.m. on 1 July that was targeted at a clandestine ultranationalist organisation called Ergenekon.

The four journalists were Mustafa Balbay, columnist and Ankara bureau chief of the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet, Ufuk Büyükçelebi, editor of the far-right daily Tercüman, TV presenter Erol Mütercümler and Murat Avar, a reporter with the state television station TRT. Their homes were searched, as were Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau and Tercüman’s Istanbul bureau. Büyükçelebi and Avar were released today. The other two are still being questioned by judges.

Those arrested also included four retired generals - former national gendarmerie chief Hursit Tolon, Association of Atatürk Thought president Sener Eruygur, Levent Ersoz and Ilker Ozguven - and Ankara Chamber of commerce president Sinan Aygün.

All are suspected of belonging to or cooperating with Ergenekon, whose goal - according to the authorities - was to promote a climate of terror and destabilisation leading to the government’s overthrow in a military coup. The police began their operation against Ergenekon more than a year ago and so far 49 people have been jailed without any charges being made public.

“The worsening political climate and social polarisation, pitting secularist and nationalist groups against the ruling Islamist party, the AKP, which is threatened by a Supreme court ban, are all very disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “So too are the rumours of an imminent coup. We fear the independent and critical press could be the first victims of this power struggle.”

The press freedom organisation added : “We appeal to the Turkish authorities to ensure that respect for the public’s right to news and information and respect for the law are not sacrificed to the political struggle.”

Balbay has refused to answer the questions put to him by the Anti-Terrorist Section of the Istanbul Security Directorate on the grounds that he has not been told what he is charged with and because details of another journalist’s interrogation in the same investigation were leaked to the press, his lawyers aid.

Balbay were referring to the interrogation of Cumhuriyet owner Ilhan Selçuk, who was arrested at his Istanbul home at around 4:30 a.m. on 21 March and who saw the answers he gave to the police being published in the newspapers over the next few days.

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