Turkey: three journalists sentenced to life over coup attempt

Ahmet Altan, left, and his brother Mehmet Altan were among those sentenced. More than 70 journalists remain behind bars. Photograph: Web

Brussels, 16 February 2018 – A Turkish court jailed yesterday journalists Mehmet Altan (65), his brother Ahmet Altan (67) and Nazli Illicak (73) for life imprisonment after finding them guilty of “involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.”

A similar sentence was handed to three other suspects, Zaman newspaper´s marketing manager Yakup Simsek, police academy instructor Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul and Zaman´s layout designer Fevzi Yazici. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) are deeply appalled by these verdicts which confirm Turkish authorities´ disregard for rule of law.

“These scandalous condemnations represent an escalation in the repression of press freedom in Turkey,” said IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “Criminalisation of journalistic work is a common way for dictatorial powers to repress freedom of expression. But Turkey belongs to the democratic States which are part of the Council of Europe, and all democratic countries should make very clear to the Turkish authorities that they went a step too far in this case. Press freedom is the thermometer of democracy and breaking it won’t help the Turkish democracy to recover.”

The Altan brothers and Nazli Ilicak were detained since September 2016 on charges, including “attempting to overthrow the Turkish Grand National Assembly”“attempting to overthrow the government of Turkey”“attempting to abolish the Constitutional order” and “committing crimes on behalf of an armed terrorist organisation without being a member.” The three journalists have always denied any implication in the failed coup.

They were also accused of appearing together on a TV show on a pro-Gulen channel just before the coup bid and issuing “subliminal messages” that the attempted overthrow was in the offing.

The conviction defies an order by Turkey’s highest court to release Mehmet Altan in January, after it found that his imprisonment had violated his constitutional rights. The ruling was not implemented by the criminal court, saying it had not been properly communicated.

This case is the first conviction of journalists in trials related to the failed coup and sets a very bad precedent for all the other journalists charged with similar groundless charges.