June 24, 2020 / 3:09 PM / 14 days ago

Turkey tries journalists over reporting deaths of intelligence officers

ISTANBUL, June 24 (Reuters) - Seven Turkish journalists went on trial on Wednesday charged with revealing state secrets in their coverage of the deaths of Turkish intelligence personnel serving in Libya.

The defendants, six of whom have been in jail since early March pending the trial, are accused of revealing the identities of two members of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT).

An eighth defendant, a municipal worker in the western Turkish town of Akhisar, is accused of supplying pictures to the journalists of the funeral of one of the dead intelligence officers.

Turkey has provided military support and training in Libya to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, helping it fight off a 14-month assault on the capital Tripoli by eastern Libyan forces led by Khalifa Haftar.

The charges against the journalists centre on articles and social media posts published shortly after President Tayyip Erdogan said in February that Turkey had “several martyrs” in Libya.

According to the indictment, Murat Agirel, a reporter for Yeni Cag newspaper, was the first to reveal the identities of the intelligence officers, sharing names and photos on Twitter and referencing Erdogan’s comments.

The indictment accuses the defendants of revealing information related to state security, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years, by revealing the missions as well as the identities of MIT members.

They are also accused of revealing documents and information related to intelligence activities, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The defendants deny the accusations, saying they were doing their jobs as journalists.

The independence of the judiciary and pressure on journalists have been debated in Turkey, especially since a crackdown after an attempted coup in 2016.

Critics say the government used the crackdown as pretext to quash dissent, while Erdogan and his AK Party say the measures are necessary given the security risks Turkey faces and that courts make independent decisions.

Turkey ranks among the top jailers of journalists across the world. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen Editing by Dominic Evans and Nick Macfie)

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