Cumhuriyet columnist Barış Pehlivan has been arrested for the fifth time and sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison within the scope of a lawsuit filed in 2020. He was initially sentenced to prison in 2020 for revealing the identity of an MİT (National Intelligence Organization) member who lost his life while serving in Libya.
Pehlivan was released on probation after serving six months in prison, with the condition that he would not commit another crime. Two years later, in March 2023, the court determined that Pehlivan had violated his probation conditions due to a lawsuit filed against him regarding a news article he had published. As a result, he was ordered to return to prison.
Pehlivan, who spent only a few hours in prison, regained his freedom through a Covid-19 permit. Although Pehlivan had applied for probation, his request was denied by the prosecutor's office. It is reported that there has been no response yet from Silivri Execution Judge No. 2. Furthermore, Pehlivan did not benefit from the regulation preventing convicts on Covid-19 leave from returning to prison, which resulted in his placement in Marmara Prison in Silivri. In the absence of a favorable response from the court, it is expected that Pehlivan will remain in prison for another 8 months.
Meanwhile, Pehlivan's repeated imprisonment has sparked strong reactions from politicians and the journalism community. CHP President Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu expressed his support for Pehlivan by stating, 'Independent and courageous journalists like Barış Pehlivan will not yield today, just as they did not yield yesterday; they will always continue to write the truth.'
The Journalists' Association of Turkey (TGC) also issued a statement in support of Pehlivan, emphasizing that the arrest decisions represent a punitive policy, and that 'practicing journalism should not be a cause for imprisonment.
Pehlivan's fifth arrest exemplifies the state of the rule of law and the right to a fair trial in Turkey. The rejection of Pehlivan's probation request by the prosecutor, the unanswered response from the judge, and the denial of the opportunities provided to other convicts on Covid-19 leave are inconsistent with the principles of the rule of law and equality.
Moreover, these arbitrary yet systematic arrests create an atmosphere of intimidation for journalists and illustrate how the media is being pressured through legal proceedings.
It is crucial to emphasize that the public's right to access the truth can only be realized through journalists who are shielded from censorship and fear. Regrettably, in Turkey, arrests have increasingly been employed as a means of repression against journalists rather than a precautionary measure, ultimately restricting the public's access to reliable sources of information.
It can also be argued that the detention of journalists indirectly undermines democratic processes. Independent media and press organizations play a critical role in government oversight, and the detention of journalists may hinder their ability to fulfill this vital function. In such cases, media and press organizations influenced by political powers can manipulate public opinion, distort facts, and mislead the public. This, in turn, can hinder active democratic participation by the public in asserting their rights and engaging in discussions on public issues.
In conclusion, the recurrent detention of journalist Barış Pehlivan represents a grave assault on the right to a fair trial, freedom of the press, and access to information. Turkey's path forward should prioritize the restoration of democratic values and the assurance of press freedom, vital steps toward fostering a just and free society.