Turkey: Life sentences in the landmark case on journalists at the heart of the Constitutional Crisis

Turkey: Life sentences in the landmark case on journalists at the heart of the Constitutional Crisis - Protection

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were today convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code and sentenced to aggravated life sentences, or life without parole.

“These verdicts, the first against journalists accused of being connected to the July 2016 failed coup, set a devastating precedent for the many other journalists and writers in Turkey who are being tried on similarly spurious charges,” said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

ARTICLE 19, PEN International and RSF who have observed the trial since the first hearing in July 2017 have found the proceedings to be marred from the outset by profound violations of the defendants’ rights to a fair trial. Initially they faced three consecutive life terms on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, parliament and the constitutional order for their alleged links to a network led by Fethullah Gülen whom the government accuses of orchestrating the attempted coup.

Crucially, the proceedings in the criminal court have ignored a landmark Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) decision on Mehmet Altan’s case. The TCC decision of 11 January 2018 found that the pre-trial detention of Mehmet Altan for over a year had led to violations of his “right to personal liberty and security” protected under Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and “freedom of expression and the press” protected under Articles 26 and 28, establishing the way for his immediate release. In violation of Article 315 of the Turkish Constitution, the lower court refused to implement this binding decision of the Constitutional Court and Mehmet Altan has remained in prison.

“Turkey’s justice system is in crisis, and domestic remedies to human rights abuses are not working” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19. “The Altans and Nazli Ilicak’s cases were given priority status at the European Court of Human Rights in April 2017. It is urgent that it now takes a decision on these cases.”

We call on European member states to increase political pressure on Turkey to release the Altans, Nazli Ilicak and other journalists detained on groundless charges.

“We know that political pressure works – earlier today the Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yucel, was released after a year in detention following talks between German Chancellor Merkel and Turkish PM Yildirim,” said RSF deputy Secretary General Antoine Bernard. “Much more of this pressure is needed. Other countries, and political and financial institutions including the EU and need to step up and demonstrate the values they profess to hold in their relations with Turkey.”