By Ali Kucukgocmen
ANKARA (Reuters) -Three Turkish journalists were released on Tuesday, hours after being jailed over their coverage of the deaths of Turkish intelligence officers in Libya in 2020, a lawyer and opposition member said.
In September 2020, five journalists were convicted of revealing information and documents connected to intelligence activities. They were variously held in detention for up to six months during their trial.
The charges related to articles and social media posts published shortly after President Tayyip Erdogan said in February 2020 that Turkey had “several martyrs” in Libya.
Turkey has provided military support and training to Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord, and helped it fight off an assault lasting several months on the capital Tripoli by eastern Libyan forces led by Khalifa Haftar.
Two journalists were sentenced in September 2020 to three years and nine months in jail, while three were given four years and eight months.
The defendants denied the accusations, saying they had been doing their jobs as journalists. Their sentences were finalised after an appeals court rejected their application on Jan. 28.
A lawyer for the journalists said on Tuesday that Murat Agirel, a reporter for Yeni Cag newspaper, and Baris Pehlivan, journalist for opposition daily Cumhuriyet, were released.
Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said journalist Hulya Kilinc was released, but it was unclear if the other two journalists were detained.
Turkish courts do not generally confirm rulings to the media and there was no word on Tuesday’s case from the government.
According to the indictment, Agirel was the first to reveal the identities of the intelligence officers, sharing names and photos on Twitter and referring to Erdogan’s comments.
Celal Ulgen, another lawyer in the case, said the sentences were “an intimidation directed towards all of society”.
Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
Critics say Erdogan has eroded the independence of courts and the media since a crackdown following an attempted coup in 2016. Officials say the courts are autonomous and arrests have been necessary because of security risks.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Grant McCool)