Three consecutive life sentences sought for prominent journalists on coup charges

Famous Turkish novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan (left) and his academic/journalist brother Mehmet Altan have been in pre-trial detention on coup charges since September 2016.

An indictment prepared by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks three consecutive life sentences for 16 people including Turkey’s prominent journalists, on coup charges, reported by Turkish Minute.

The suspects mentioned in the indictment include former Zaman daily CEO and editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Emre Uslu, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Abdulkerim Balcı, Ali Çolak, Bülent Keneş, Faruk Kardıç, Fevzi Yazıcı, Mehmet Kamış, Şemseddin Efe, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, Tibet Murad Sanlıman, Tuncay Opçin, Yakup Şimşek and Osman Özsoy. They are being accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish government and the Turkish Parliament.

Journalist brothers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, who were detained on Sept. 10, were accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding a failed coup attempt on July 15 on a TV show a day before the putsch. After spending 12 days in detention, journalist and academic Mehmet Altan was arrested by an İstanbul court on Sept. 22, while his brother Ahmet Altan was released under judicial supervision. Police detained Ahmet Altan late the same day after the İstanbul 1st Penal Court of Peace issued a warrant for his detention.

Ahmet Altan was arrested by an İstanbul court on Sept. 23 for allegedly “attempting a coup” and “membership in ‘FETÖ’,” a term the government coined to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement. The Altan brothers are prominent journalists who have been unequivocally critical of the regime of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ahmet Altan is a novelist and former editor-in-chief of the Taraf newspaper. The daily ran headlines that led to the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup plot investigations, which helped the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government subdue the role of the military in Turkish politics. After quitting Taraf, Altan resumed writing harsh critical columns against the increasingly authoritarian AKP government and President Erdoğan.

Mehmet Altan, an economics professor at İstanbul University, is also a columnist known for his liberal views and criticism of the government amid increasing and unprecedented pressure on the media and dissidents. He was targeted by pro-Erdoğan columnist Hilal Kaplan for not being dismissed from his position at the university at a time when hundreds of academics and teachers were being expelled from their posts as part of an investigation into the failed coup attempt.

As of April 1, 2017, Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a Stockholm-based monitoring and rights advocacy group, has confirmed that 228 journalists and media workers are behind bars in Turkey, a new world record by any measure. Of these journalists, 194 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. 13 jailed journalists have been re-detained just after they were released by an İstanbul court on March 31, 2017. Most of the journalists do not even know what the charges are or what evidence, if any, the government has because the indictments were not filed yet.

The Turkish government is apparently using arbitrary arrests as part of intimidation campaign to suppress critical coverage, muzzle independent media and silence journalists. Only 21 journalists who are in jail were convicted while the rest are in abusive and long pre-trial detentions. Moreover, sweeping detention warrants have been issued for at least 100 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large in Turkey.

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect. The Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch.

In the currently ongoing post-coup witch hunt, over 135,000 people have been purged due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement. Also, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has announced on April 2 that 47,155 people have been jailed while 113,260 people have been detained with the same accusations. (SCF with April 14, 2017


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