Turkish court rules Altan brothers, Ilıcak, others to remain in jail

An İstanbul court on Monday ruled that journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and Fevzi Yazıcı, who were arrested in September 2016 on charges of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, are to remain in pretrial detention, the T24 news website reported.

The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court scheduled the next hearing for Dec. 11 while refusing an application by Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Dursun Çiçek to take part in the case in which 17 people are being tried.

Four of the six arrested suspects – Ilıcak, Yakup Şimşek, Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül — appeared in court, while the Altan brothers attended the hearing via video conference.

During the morning hearing, the judge ordered the lawyers for the Altan brothers to leave the courtroom after a quarrel, on the grounds that they were speaking without permission. The lawyers were reportedly interrupting the prosecutor to voice their demands from the court. It was first lawyer Ergin Cinmen to interrupt the prosecutor, saying that the court should listen to their demands before hearing the prosecutor’s dictum. The court head ordered him to leave.

When the hearing resumed after a 20-minute break, Figen Çalıkuşu, another lawyer of the Altan brothers, faced a similar procedure after she argued that the prosecutor’s opinion should not be heard before evidence was collected. Çalıkuşu applied for recusal.

Two other lawyers of the Altans, Ferhat Çağıl and Melike Polat, insisted that the hearing should not continue when a demand for recusal was in place, ending in two more breaks.

Both Mehmet Altan and Ahmet Altan, who were detained on Sept. 10, were accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 on a TV show a day before the putsch.

The prosecutor accuses the suspects of being linked to the Gülen movement and committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member of it.

The court in September ruled to separate the files of former Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş and journalists Tuncay Opçin and Emre Uslu from the case.

During the hearing on Monday all the suspects demanded their release.

The judges also refused demands by lawyers of the journalists that they recuse themselves from the case.

Yazıcı, a Turkish member of the US-based international Society for News Design (SND), in October sent a letter to the SND community through his wife, who recently visited him in prison. The designer’s letter was emotional, underlining his harshly restricted living conditions in prison for a crime he denies having anything to do with.

The Altan brothers are prominent journalists who have been unequivocally critical of the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ahmet Altan is a novelist and former editor-in-chief of the now-closed-down 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 recently 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.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 255 journalists and media workers are in jails as of November 8, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live 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.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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