Prominent journalists given prison sentences in retrial over Gülen links

Photo (Punto 24)

A Turkish court that heard the retrial of several journalists and media workers on terrorism charges due to their alleged links to a faith-based group has handed down prison sentences to two prominent journalists and one art director on charges of abetting a criminal organization, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Punto24 platform.

The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court issued its rulings during the third hearing in the retrial of the journalists and media workers on Wednesday.

Among the defendants were veteran journalists Nazlı Ilıcak and Ahmet Altan as well as the now-closed Zaman daily’s art director Fevzi Yazıcı and brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek. With the exception of Altan, the defendants attended Wednesday’s hearing with their lawyers.

They had been convicted on terrorism-related charges for previously working at media outlets considered close to the Gülen movement. The convictions, which first called for aggravated life sentences and later lesser sentences, were twice overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals, requiring a retrial. They had been accused of supporting an attempted coup by “disseminating subliminal messages to the public.”

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The Turkish government also labels the movement a terrorist organization although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The defendants, who were arrested immediately after the coup attempt in 2016, served time in prison ranging from four years to six-and-a-half years on coup-related charges.

They all denied the charges and said their actions were within the limits of journalistic acitivity and had nothing to do with the coup attempt.

The court handed down a prison sentence of five years, three months to Ilıcak, six years, 18 days to Altan and two years, one month to Yazıcı on charges of aiding an armed organization without being a member of it, while Şimşek was acquitted of the charges directed against him.

The court kept a travel ban on Ilıcak and Altan in place, while it was removed for Yazıcı along with other judicial probation measures.

Altan’s lawyer, Figen Çalıkuşu Albuga, said the crime of aiding an armed organization without membership in it contravenes the constitution, hence the files of the defendants facing this charge should be sent to the Constitutional Court and the trial halted until the top court makes a ruling. The court rejected the lawyer’s request.

In a landmark decision in December, Turkey’s Constitutional Court annulled Article 220 § 6 of the Turkish Penal Code, a controversial law that punished individuals for committing crimes on behalf of an organization without being a member of that organization, citing a lack of clarity and predictability.

Lawyer Albuga was referring to this ruling of the top court.

The Constitutional Court said the vagueness of the law leads to a broad interpretation that affects fundamental rights such as the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, as well as freedom of religion and conscience. It concluded that the provision does not meet the required standards of certainty and predictability and is therefore incompatible with constitutional principles.

Prison sentences were given to Ilıcak and Altan regardless of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that found rights violations in their imprisonment.

The Strasbourg-based court found rights violations in the imprisonment of Altan in April 2021. The ECtHR found that “there was no evidence that the actions of the applicant had been part of a plan to overthrow the government.”

The court also ruled in December 2021 in Ilıcak’s case that working for media outlets close to the Gülen movement and expressing doubts about the Turkish government’s narrative on the failed coup were not plausible grounds for terrorism-related charges.

Altan, also a renowned novelist, wrote two books behind bars titled “I Will Never See the World Again” and “Lady Life.” While the former, which has been translated into many languages and published in nearly 30 countries, was named one of the 20 best books of 2019 by Amazon in the US, the latter was named Best European Novel by French magazine Transfuge.

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