Jailed Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak set for next hearing

Veteran Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested on July 29, 2016.

Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak (73), a well-known columnist, TV host and former parliamentarian, has spent over two years behind bars since her arrest on July 29, 2016, weeks after Turkey was rocked by a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Her crime, according to the indictment, was involvement along with dozens of other journalists in the coup attempt, which prosecutors said the journalists had abetted through their writings.

Already sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” Ilıcak faces additional espionage charges, the next hearing for which will take place on Sept. 6.

The article below provides all the salient points on the trial of one of Turkey’s many prominent journalists now condemned to a life behind bars. The article was penned by the Punto 24 Platform for Independent Journalism and first published on Expression Interrupted.

“Nazlı Ilıcak, a well-known columnist, TV host and former parliamentarian aged 73, was detained on July 26 2016 as part of an operation targeting journalists alleged to have links with the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist network (FETÖ/PDY) and staging the 15 July 2016 coup attempt.

Ilıcak, who wrote for the mainstream media for decades, was a commentator for Özgür Düşünce newspaper, run mostly by former journalists of Zaman who were fired from the daily after it was taken over by a court-appointed board of trustees in March 2016, and Can Erzincan TV before she was arrested. Both outlets were closed down by an emergency decree that was issued on July 27, 2016, along with more than 100 other media institutions.

Ilıcak and 16 other journalists were imprisoned pending trial on 30 July, reportedly on charges of “being members of a terrorist organization.” On 14 April 2017, Anadolu news agency reported that an indictment sent to the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court in April 2017 seeks three aggravated life sentences for Ilıcak on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament, and the government” and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

The prosecutor accuses Ilıcak and 16 other people cited in the indictment, mostly journalists, of “participating” in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, maintaining that they knew the coup attempt beforehand and thus were in collaboration with the coup plotters.

(Full text of the indictment against Ilıcak and other defendants — in Turkish — can be accessed here.)

Ilıcak and six other people, five of whom are in pre-trial detention, appeared before judges of the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court for the first hearing of the case on June 19-23,  2017.

Ilıcak rejected all accusations and requested her release, saying she had no intention to leave the country. The court, announcing its interim ruling at the end of the five-day hearing, decided to keep all six imprisoned defendants in pre-trial detention.

Ilıcak again rejected the accusations and said no evidence has been presented to support them at the second hearing, held on September 19, 2017.

On 13 November, at the end of the third hearing, the court again ruled  to keep all defendants behind bars.

The fourth hearing in the trial was held on December 11, 2017, at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.

The fifth and final hearing in the case was held on February 12-16. The first day of the hearing took place on February 12 at the Çağlayan Courthouse in downtown Istanbul but the rest of the trial was moved to the courtroom inside the Silivri Prison complex.

Ilıcak presented her final defense statement to the court on the second day of the hearing on 13 February, when she rejected the accusations once again. The full text of her defense statement (in Turkish) can be found here.

On February 16, Ilıcak and five of her co-defendants in the case were convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.

“Espionage” case 

In January 2018, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a new indictment against Ilıcak, accusing the journalist of “disclosing confidential information crucial to state security for espionage purposes” as per Article 330/1 of the Turkish Penal Code for a newspaper column published on January 2, 2015, in the shuttered Bugün daily, and titled “Askerî İstihbarat ve Tahşiyeciler” (The Military Intelligence and Tahşiyeciler).

Accepting the indictment, the 15th High Criminal Court of Ankara issued a decision of non-jurisdiction and sent the file to Istanbul on grounds that the Bugün newspaper was headquartered in Istanbul during the time of the alleged crime.

Ilıcak gave her statement before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 9 April 2018, at the first hearing of that case, for which she faces life imprisonment.

At the second hearing held on May 23, the prosecutor asked the court to accept a request from the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff. The prosecutor also requested an expansion of the investigation to find out if Ilıcak talked or wrote about the content of the article in question on television programs, newspapers or social media. Ilıcak, who addressed the court through video-conferencing system SEGBİS from the Bakırköy Prison, objected to the prosecutor’s request for expansion of the investigation, saying that whether an article was used by social media users or other media outlets was not up to the writer of that article. She and her lawyers said the case must be dropped given that the Press Law limits the period of time when a court case can be brought against an article published in the press to four months.

In its interim ruling, the court ruled to allow the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff and accepted the prosecutor’s request for expansion of the investigation. The next hearing in the case will be held on September 6. Ilıcak is currently imprisoned at Bakırköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul.”

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 2, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with Ahval)

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