FILE - Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 21, 2019.
FILE - Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 21, 2019.

ISTANBUL - A third Turkish journalist has been arrested for reporting on the funeral of a Turkish intelligence officer purportedly killed in Libya, according to local news media reports.

OdaTV editor Barış Pehlivan was arrested Friday as part of a state-led probe of OdaTV's coverage of the officer's quiet March 2 burial ceremony in the Manisa province of western Turkey.

State prosecutors say Pehlivan, along with OdaTV news director Baris Terkoglu and reporter Hulya Kilinc — both of whom were detained March 4 — disclosed the agent's identity in violation of national law.

Facing up to nine years in prison, Terkoglu and Kilinc Thursday rejected the charges in statements before the court.

Agent already identified

Kilinc said she published the officer's first name and the initial of his last name only after an opposition lawmaker had already publicly identified the deceased agent.

"Since I learned that citizens and government officials also attended the funeral, I did not see any harm in conveying it to the press," Kilinc said, adding that images included in her news report were already publicly accessible on social media.

OdaTV news director Terkoglu told the court that he respected the wishes of family members who did not want to comment on their loss, but that he saw no crime in publishing footage of the ceremony.

"I don't think me being a suspect here is related to this news [story] at all," he said. "This news is an excuse made up to make me a defendant in these trials."

Terkoglu served 19 months in jail in 2011-12 on accusations of taking part in an alleged plot to topple the government. He was later released along with many others at the time and the case later fell apart.

Pehlivan, who spoke with VOA's Turkish Service Thursday, was defiant.

“The identity of the official had already been revealed by opposition IYI Party Istanbul deputy Umit Ozdag at a press conference in parliament that was broadcast online,” Pehlivan told VOA. "Our curiosity and passion for journalism cannot be prevented by prisons, deaths and threats."

Pehlivan also said he had received text and phone messages of support from some government and ruling AKP officials shortly after his colleagues had been detained.

It is not clear whether Pehlivan's sudden arrest on Friday was a result of the comments he made to VOA.

Site blocked

Turkish Communications officials blocked OdaTV's website Wednesday, leaving only a government disclaimer to greet readers: "After technical analysis and legal consideration based on the law nr.5651, administrative measures have been taken for this website according to decision nr. 490.05.01.2020-935064 dated 05/03/2020 of the Information and Communication Technologies."

The site was accessible for international visitors as of Friday. 

Asked whether Ankara's response was too heavy-handed, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu criticized OdaTV in an interview with CNN Turk.

"There is such a thing as state secrets, national security secrets," he said.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), however, issued a statement countering that notion.

“We find unacceptable that the public information channels are blocked by bans and notions such as ‘state secrets,’" they wrote. "TGC also called for the immediate release of all imprisoned journalists."

“The detentions of OdaTV journalists Barış Terkoglu and Hulya Kilinc are absurd, and they should be released immediately and all charges should be dropped,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Reporting on matters of public interest should not land journalists in jail, especially if that information is already in the public domain.”

Turkey has sent dozens of military personnel for training purposes to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as it heads off an assault by Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, but denies they are engaged in active fighting.

RSF ranks Turkey 157 out of 180 countries for press freedom, and the CPJ said at least 47 journalists were in Turkish jails as of December 2019.

This story originated in VOA's Turkish Service. Translation by Mehtap Yilmaz. Pete Cobus contributed reporting from Washington.