A Turkish court on Friday handed down aggravated life sentences to three prominent journalists and three other defendants on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order even after Turkey’s highest court had ruled for the release of one of them.
Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, and his journalist brother Ahmet, were charged with giving coded messages on a television talk show a day before the abortive July 15 military coup in 2016. Nazlı Ilıcak, another veteran journalist, two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Zaman brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek and art director Fevzi Yazıcı, as well as former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül were also given aggravated life sentences, while advertising company manager Tibet Murat Sanlıman, another defendant who was not in pretrial detention, was acquitted.
The trial of the journalists had resumed on Monday. During the final hearing at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Friday, the judge gave 10 minutes to each of the defendants to make their final remarks.
Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan has been sentenced to life in prison for “violating the constitution.” His daughter tells DW that the verdict is a political decision aimed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents.
Sanem Altan: There is a very simple explanation for it. The decision clearly tells us that Turkish courts do not need evidence to convict someone, and that anyone can be jailed — even sentenced to life in prison. The sentence shows that the rule of law is disappearing, it shows how rotten it has become and how it has been transformed into a matter of personal interest. It is very clear that the decision is aimed at Erdogan’s opponents. Therefore, I find the decision to be both reprehensible, and at the same time laughable. Nevertheless, it does not make me especially sad, surprised or even fearful.Ahmet Altan with his daughter, Sanem
All of the suspects requested their acquittal and denied the accusations leveled against them them. Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan asked the court to comply with a Constitutional Court ruling last month ordering the release of Altan and another jailed journalist, Şahin Alpay. Ilıcak said her case was similar to that of Mehmet Altan and that she should also be released.
Ahmet Altan, who has delivered historic defense statements before the court, said in his final remarks that he has been tried hundreds of times in his lifetime at different periods in the country, but that he has for the first time stood trial in a court that has committed a constitutional crime.
“Such a trial has never before been seen, not during the time of the Ottoman Empire and not during the history of the [Turkish] Republic. No country can allow two politicians and judges to destroy a state of law. It will not do so. It will be beneficial for everyone if you abandon an unlawful, unconstitutional and illegal journey,” said Ahmet Altan.
Turkey’s judiciary is being criticized for acting on orders from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and not basing their rulings on the law. Judges in Turkey who make decisions that anger Erdoğan are either replaced or jailed.
Both Mehmet Altan and Ahmet Altan, who were detained on Sept. 10, 2016, were accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding the failed coup on a TV show a day before the putsch.
The Altan brothers are prominent journalists who have been unequivocally critical of the regime of President Erdoğan.