Update: On 23 June, at the end of the last day of the latest hearing, the court ordered that all the journalists, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, should remain in detention. Journalists and representatives of human rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), tried to attend the 23 June hearing but the courtroom was too small and they had to wait outside. The next hearing has been set for 19 September.
The trial of 17 Turkish journalists accused of complicity in a coup attempt in July 2016 will open in Istanbul on 19 June. Six of them, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, are currently detained. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for their immediate release because they are being held for criticizing the government.
According to a 247-page indictment, the 17 reporters and columnists are each facing the possibility of three life sentences plus a 15-year jail term on a range of charges that include trying to “eliminate the government,” trying to “destroy constitutional order” and trying to “eliminate parliament".
They are also charged with membership of “the FETÖ organization,” the government’s name for the movement led by the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen that is alleged to have orchestrated the coup attempt.
The prosecutor’s office claims that they had advanced warning of the coup and used “subliminal messages” to support it during a broadcast of “Özgür Düsünce” (Free Thought), a programme on the local TV channel Can Erzincan.
“This trial marks a new level in the growing absurdity of the charges being brought against journalists,” RSF said. “We call for the acquittal of these 17 journalists and the immediate release of those being held, who have no place being in prison. It is high time that the Turkish authorities ended their systematic criminalization of critics.”
The journalist going on trial on 19 June include such leading media names as Nazlı Ilıcak et Ahmet Altan, who is being prosecuted along with his brother, Mehmet Altan.
The former editor of the newspaper Taraf, Ahmet Altan is accused inter alia of trying to “pave the way for the coup” by publishing two editorials headlined “Mutlak korku” (Absolute fear) and “Ezip geçmek” (Crush everything in your path) on 12 May 2016 and 27 June 2016 respectively.
Together with the well-known Parisian street artist C215, RSF staged an operation in support of Turkey’s imprisoned journalist last month in which stencils were used to paint the faces of ten of the imprisoned journalists across the urban landscape in Paris and outside the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Ilıcak, the Altan brothers and around 20 other detained Turkish journalists have asked the Strasbourg court to rule on the legality of their detention, which has so far continued for an average of about ten months. At a hearing on 13 June, the court ruled that their cases were admissible and asked Turkey to submit its observations by 4 October.
Ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is now the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists. The already worrying situation of its media has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the 2016 coup attempt.
Around 150 media have been closed by decree and more than 100 journalists are currently detained. At least 775 press cards have also been rescinded and hundreds of journalists’ passports have cancelled without any form of judicial proceedings.