Top Court Upholds Life Sentence for Journalists Altan Brothers, Ilicak
A regional court of appeals has upheld the aggravated life imprisonment handed down to six defendants, including prominent journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak, who are accused of having links to plotters of 2016’s coup attempt targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish media reported on Tuesday.
The six individuals are claimed in a high profile case to have “attempted to destroy the constitutional order” under the Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code. The other defendants are named as Yakup Simsek, Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul and Fevzi Yazici.
Prosecutors assert that the six individuals were “aware of the coup attempt ahead of time”, which they vehemently deny, and that they were working on orders of Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), a term coined by the Turkish government for sympathizers of U.S.-based Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.
The accusations against Ahmet Altan, a world-renowned Turkish novelist and journalist, and his brother Mehmet Altan, en economy professor and journalist, have drawn international attention, prompting a social media campaign with the hashtag #FreeAltanBrothers.
Over 200 intellectuals from all around the world, including Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Costas Gavras, Nick Hornby, Orhan Pamuk and Michael Cunningham became signatories to the campaign, backed by the PEN International, demanding that Turkey release the Altan brothers.
Journalists accused of giving ‘subliminal message’ on TV
The trial, dubbed “the media leg of FETO” by the Turkish pro-government outlets, was finalized on February 16, with the three journalists being sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. Lawyers representing the defendants appealed the verdict to a higher court. They still reserve the right to apply to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The conviction of three journalists is based on the allegation that they gave a “subliminal message” to the public regarding the “upcoming coup” during a televised political debate they attended on the night before the notorious coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
During the TV show, which was hosted by veteran journalist Ilicak and Mehmet Altan, along with their guest Ahmet Altan, they discussed Turkey’s political climate. At one point, citing the current authoritarian regime and the country’s history full of military coups, the trio talked about various possibilities Turkey might face in the near future, including a coup.
Prosecutors claimed that the three journalists aimed to “prepare the people for the coup scheduled for the next day” and that they “threatened the president” with this rhetoric.
Lawyers: Verdict contradicts previous Constitutional Court decision
The lawyers representing the defendants regard the verdict as a breach of a Constitutional Court ruling, which deemed Mehmet Altan’s pretrial detention “violation of his rights” earlier this year. The local court trying Mehmet Altan denied releasing him for five months, resisting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
The issue was eventually brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled on March 20 that the local criminal courts were violating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), by refusing to follow the order of Constitutional Court. Ankara was also sentenced to pay 21,000 TL in compensation to Mehmet Altan.
The academic was released pending trial in June, after spending two years in detention.
His brother Ahmet Altan, an internationally acclaimed author and former editor-in-chief of prominent daily Taraf, on the other hand, has been in jail since September 2016, waiting for his trial to come to an end. Altan penned a number of literary essays from prison such as the one titled I Will Never See the World Again that was published by various outlets, including the New York Times.
Another article written by Ahmet Altan, The Writer’s Paradox, was published by the Society of Authors and English PEN.