The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on March 16, 2018 issued its reasoned decision in a trial in which six defendants, including journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, his brother academic and columnist Mehmet Altan, veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, Marketing Director of the shuttered Zaman newspaper Yakup Şimşek, the daily’s Arts Director Fevzi Yazıcı and former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül were handed down aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
According to a report by the Platform For Independent Journalism (P24), the reasoned decision, which came a full month after the original verdict on February 16, consists of lengthy court documents including the indictment and transcribed recordings of the court sessions. totaling 796 pages.
In the detailed decision the court said: “The defendants are co-perpetrators of the offence of violating the Constitution through participating in the violence, bombings and murders committed across the country during the coup attempt with the intent of violating the constitutional order, through participating in the physical violence — beyond immaterial violence.”
The court lists “official records included in the case file, other indictments included for informative purposes, Twitter posts shared by the defendants prior to the coup attempt, statements by witnesses and secret witnesses” and remarks made in several television programs before and during the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
“The convicted defendants participated in the physical violence committed across Turkey on the night of July 15-16 as co-perpetrators,” the court said, adding that they were handed down the aggravated life sentences in accordance with the severity of their crime.
In explaining why the defendants were found guilty of actual participation in the coup attempt, the court referred to “On Crimes and Punishments,” a book written by Italian jurist and philosopher Cesare Bonesana-Beccaria in 1764.
Defense lawyers maintained throughout the trial proceedings that the term “immaterial violence” should be dismissed, based on recent rulings issued by the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals in regard to the coup attempt trials, which underlined that the “use of force and violence” constitute the elements of the crime of coup perpetration and that the term “immaterial violence” was unacceptable under current Turkish law.
The court, on the other hand, cited the “Beccarian perspective,” according to which acts against the constitutional order could be both “physical and immaterial acts.” The court further argued that such acts include “speech and writings” since thought alone cannot be punished when it is not expressed in one of these forms.
The full text of the reasoned decision in Turkish can be accessed here.
On February 16, 2018, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court sentenced Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Ilıcak, Şimşek, Yazıcı and Özşengül to aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
Announcing its verdict at the end of five days of hearings that took place from February 12-16 in Silivri, the court ruled that there was no need to issue separate verdicts on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the Parliament” and “attempting to overthrow the government,” as those offenses were “implicit in the offense of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’.”
The court acquitted Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the only defendant in the case who had been released pending trial, and ruled for the lifting of the judicial probation terms imposed on him.
The court ruled that on account of the “defendants’ conduct throughout the trial,” no reduction of sentence would be granted.
The defendants were charged on the basis of their writings, televised remarks and social media posts as well as phone communication records and witness statements, although no witness ever appeared before the court to testify and be questioned.
The Altans were initially arrested for “sending subliminal messages” during a television program on which they appeared on the night of July 14, 2016 along with Ilıcak. But that accusation disappeared after an international outcry and instead they were accused of “making statements that are evocative of a coup.”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with P24)