Seven Turkish journalists have gone on trial 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 trial, are accused of revealing the identities of two members of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT).
The list includes Muyesser Yildiz, the Ankara news editor for the OdaTV online news portal, who was arrested over “political and military espionage”. OdaTV has been critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Dozens of people gathered outside the court in Istanbul to show solidarity with the journalists on Wednesday.
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 deceased intelligence officers.
Turkey has provided military support and training in Libya to the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), helping it fend off a 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli, by eastern Libyan forces led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The charges against the journalists centre on articles and social media posts published shortly after 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, a charge which carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The defendants deny the accusations, saying they were doing their jobs as journalists.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, has called on Turkey to drop the charges.
“Turkey should stop attempting to control independent journalism with intimidation, immediately free the arrested journalists, and drop this case,” the group’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, Gulnoza Said, said in a statement last month.
The CPJ ranks Turkey among the top jailers of journalists worldwide, alongside China and Saudi Arabia.
About 80 journalists and other media workers are currently in jail under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws, according to the Turkish Journalists Syndicate, including many who were arrested in a crackdown following a 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey maintains that the journalists are prosecuted for criminal acts and not for their journalistic work.