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Turkey: Ahmet Altan and other defendants must be acquitted and released immediately

ARTICLE 19 is calling for the acquittal of six journalists whose re-trial will begin in Istanbul on Tuesday 8 October 2019.  

The re-trial was ordered by the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals, which in July 2019 ruled that the life sentences handed down to the six defendants in February 2018 should be quashed. The Court of Appeals stated that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted entirely due to lack of sufficient evidence, while the charges for the other five defendants were reduced. In particular, the ruling stated that there was no causal link between the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and the articles or speech of the defendants, an argument also made by ARTICLE 19 in an expert opinion submitted to the trial court. The Supreme Court of Appeals argued that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should be re-tried on the lesser charge of aiding of terrorist organisation, while defendants Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek ve Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül should be tried as members of a terrorist organisation. 

Head of Europe and Central Asia, Sarah Clarke said:

These are politically-motivated convictions that reflect how the rule of law has been undermined in Turkey:  the country’s judicial system is in crisis with its independence being eroded by the mass dismissal of judges and institutional reforms.

Ahmet Altan and the other defendants in the case have now been in prison for over three years, in a case that should have been thrown out at the first hearing. They were convicted following a trial marred by inconsistencies and procedural violations. They have been denied their right to freedom of expression and their right to a fair trial. All defendants must now be acquitted, released and compensated for the time they have spent in jail.”

Mehmet Altan was released in June 2018 after an appeals court implemented an earlier Constitutional Court ruling for his release. The defendants include: Ahmet Atan, novelist and journalist; Mehmet Altan, academic; Nazli Ilıcak, journalist and writer; Fevzi Yazıcı, former design director of the Zaman newspaper; Yakup Şimşek, a former marketing manager at Zaman and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül, a former lecturer at the Police Academy in Turkey.  

In February 2018, the six defendants in the case were convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code and given aggravated life sentences. Tibet Sanliman, director of an external advertising agency commissioned by Zaman newspaper, was acquitted in the trial. This verdict was upheld following an appeal in October 2018 but in July 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals found the six defendants not guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

Denial of a fair trial

ARTICLE 19 has observed the trial since the first hearing in June 2017 and believes that the defendants have been denied a fair trial.  The defendants faced extraordinary restrictions in their access to lawyers prior to trial, Ahmet Altan’s lawyers were expelled from one hearing, in violation of his right to have legal counsel at trial , and while the presiding judge remained in place throughout the trial, the panel of judges was different at each hearing, calling into question their ability to pronounce a judgement in the case. ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the court in June 2018.

Contact

For further information Pam Cowburn, [email protected], 07749 785 932.