Turkey: Appeal court could uphold life sentences for three well-known journalists

After a preliminary hearing in June, an Istanbul regional court will today begin examining the substance of the appeals of three well-known journalists, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. If it confirms their sentences, they will end their days in prison, subjected to a drastic form of solitary confinement, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warns.

At the end of the original trial in February, the three journalists were sentenced to “aggravated life imprisonment,” the Turkish judicial system’s harshest punishment, which precludes any possibility of a pardon and prohibits temporary releases. They are aged 68, 65 and 74 respectively.

Under Turkey’s sentence implementation law, persons convicted of “aggravated life imprisonment” are confined to an individual cell nearly all day, are allowed just a single one-hour visit by a close relative and a ten-minute phone call every two weeks, and are not let out of prison for any reason other than hospitalization. When an ailment cannot be treated in the prison infirmary, they are taken to an isolated room in a state hospital.

Arrested in September 2016, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak were convicted 18 months later of “trying to overthrow the constitutional order” in connection with their journalistic activities, in particular, their criticism of the authorities during a TV programme broadcast the day before the July 2016 coup attempt.

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 on appeal.

“Subjecting the Altan brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak to the harshest prison conditions would be an act of political revenge in its purest form,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “It is high time to end this persecution, which dishonours Turkey. The appeal court must take account of the rulings issued by the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights in this case. The conviction of these three journalists must be overturned.”

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 the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained. Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 21.09.2018