ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish journalist has been sentenced to 20 months in jail and stripped of legal rights over her children for breaching the confidentiality of a court case, her lawyer said on Wednesday, raising further concern about deteriorating press freedoms.
Arzu Yildiz was sued by the state after publishing footage in May 2015 from a court hearing at which four prosecutors were on trial for ordering a search of trucks belonging to Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency as they traveled to Syria in 2014.
The incident was highly sensitive for President Tayyip Erdogan and the government. Erdogan said the searching of the trucks and some of the media coverage of it was part of a plot by his political enemies to undermine him and embarrass Turkey.
Two prominent journalists were sentenced to at least five years in jail for revealing state secrets in a separate case this month after publishing footage which purported to show the trucks carrying weapons to Syria.
The ruling against Yildiz, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said she would be deprived of legal guardianship of her children, invoking an article in Turkey’s penal code which allows courts to strip jailed individuals of such rights.
Her lawyer said the decision meant she would not be able to register her children in school, open bank accounts for them or take them abroad alone and could only do so in conjunction with their father. Yildiz is married with two children.
“This was an act of revenge,” the lawyer, Alpdeger Tanriverdi, told Reuters by telephone. “There are many cases in which the court does not execute this article of the penal code. They didn’t have to do it.”
The court could not immediately be reached for comment. The sentence is pending approval from the court of appeals.
The case against the two other journalists sentenced this month in relation to the searching of the MIT trucks - Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief respectively of the Cumhuriyet daily - brought condemnation from global rights groups and heightened concern about press freedom.
Several Turkish opposition newspapers have been shut over the past six months and broadcasters taken off air. Prosecutors have meanwhile opened more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014, including journalists, cartoonists and teenagers.
Erdogan has acknowledged that the MIT trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border, belonged to the intelligence agency and said they were carrying aid to Turkmen fighters in Syria.
But he has said that prosecutors had no authority to order the trucks be searched and that they were part of a “parallel state” run by his ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric with a network of followers who Erdogan says is bent on discrediting him.
The prosecutors have denied the allegations. Gulen has denied plotting against the government.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones