The draconian sentence of “aggravated life imprisonment” that three well-known Turkish journalists received in February has been upheld on appeal. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards the decision, issued by an Istanbul regional court yesterday evening, as an act of judicial lynching.
Now that their conviction on a charge of “trying to overthrow constitutional order” has been confirmed, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak have one last chance, an appeal to Turkey’s Court of Cassation. Otherwise they will spend the rest of their lives in a strict form of solitary confinement.
“These well-known journalists have been subjected to a judicial lynching,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The prospect of their spending the rest of their days behind bars in the harshest form of isolation is quite simply a disgrace for the Turkish authorities. The international community must redouble its efforts to end the completely arbitrary rule that now prevails in Turkey.”
Arrested in September 2016, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak were tried in connection with their activities as journalists, in particular, their criticism of the authorities during a TV broadcast on the eve of a coup attempt in July 2016.
Their trial was marked by many procedural violations and a refusal to comply with a binding Constitutional Court ruling that Mehmet Altan’s prolonged detention constituted an unwarranted violation of his rights.
It was only after resisting the Constitutional Court’s order for six months that the justice system finally released Mehmet Altan, under judicial control, in June. He will return to prison if his sentence is upheld by the Court of Cassation.
At the beginning of the trial, the prosecutor claimed that Ahmet Altan had transmitted “subliminal messages” during his TV appearance on the eve of the coup attempt. The prosecutor then claimed that all three had made “use of force (...) in an immaterial manner.”
The already worrying situation of Turkey’s media has become critical since the abortive coup in July 2016. Many media outlets have been closed summarily, without any form of recourse, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison. It is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.