February 16, 2018

Turkish court sentences three journalists to life imprisonment

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the sentences of life imprisonment with no possibility of a pardon that an Istanbul court passed on three well-known journalists today, in what has been a terrible day for press freedom in Turkey.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak received the heaviest possible sentences after being convicted on various charges including “trying to overthrow constitutional order” for criticizing the government during a TV broadcast on the eve of an abortive coup d’état in July 2016.

“By passing sentences of this severity on the basis of such a weak case, the Turkish judicial system has made a fool of itself in the eyes of the world,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “These sentences are a political reprisal of incredible violence and confirm that the most absolute despotism now reigns in Turkey. They also set a terrible precedent for all the other journalists who are wrongfully accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.”

Despite their advanced age, the three journalists spent more than a year and half in provisional detention before receiving today’s sentences. A constitutional court decision in January ordering Mehmet Altan’s release was never carried out, in a major blow to the rule of the law. The rights of the defence were repeatedly violated during trial, which RSF observed.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.