An İstanbul court on Wednesday sentenced prominent Turkish novelist and editor-in-chief of the now-closed Taraf newspaper Ahmet Altan, who was sentenced by another court to aggravated life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on Feb. 16, 2018, to an additional five years, 11 months in prison on terror-related charges.
Ahmet Altan was charged with alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt against autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.
The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court, hearing trials in the Silivri Prison Complex, on Feb. 16 handed down aggravated life sentences to prominent journalist Ahmet Altan; his brother Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and columnist; well-known journalist and writer Nazlı Ilıcak; two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek and art director Fevzi Yazıcı; and former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül.
Altan was this time convicted of allegedly disseminating the propaganda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and was given three years in prison on that charge. Altan, age 67, was accused of portraying the actions of the PKK as innocent. In the article, published on the Haberdar news website, he had written of “children” digging trenches to fight Turkish soldiers. The same court also handed down a sentence of two years, 11 months for allegedly insulting President Erdoğan.
Meanwhile, 38 Nobel laureates published an open letter to Erdoğan in The Guardian newspaper calling for a halt to what they termed the unlawful detention and wrongful conviction of writers and thinkers.
Among the examples given by the letter’s 38 authors, who included novelists JM Coetzee and Kazuo Ishiguro, was the recent sentencing of journalists and writers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak to life in prison.
“David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, concurred and dubbed the legal proceedings a ‘show trial’, they wrote and continued as follows: “Turkey’s own constitutional court concurred with this criticism. On 11 January this year, it ruled that Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Şahin Alpay’s rights were being violated by pre-trial detention, and that they should be released. Yet the first-degree courts refused to implement the higher constitutional court’s decision, thus placing the judicial system in criminal violation of the constitution. Mr President, you must surely be concerned that the lower criminal court’s defiance and this non-legal decision was backed by the spokesperson of your government.”
The letter also brought to mind a ceremony held in 2009 in honor of Çetin Altan, veteran columnist and father of Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan gave a speech at the event.
The letter states: “During a ceremony in honour of Çetin Altan, on February 2, 2009, you declared publicly that ‘Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever.’ Among the audience were Çetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?”
The letter was signed by Svetlana Alexievich, Philip W Anderson, Aaron Ciechanover, JM Coetzee, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Elias J Corey, Gerhard Ertl, Albert Fert, Edmond H Fischer, Andrew Z Fire, Andre Geim, Sheldon Glashow, Serge Haroche, Leland H Hartwell, Oliver Hart, Richard Henderson, Dudley Herschbach, Avram Hershko, Roald Hoffmann, Robert Huber, Tim Hunt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Eric S Maskin, Hartmut Michel, Herta Müller, VS Naipaul, William D Phillips, John C Polanyi, Richard J Roberts, Randy W Schekman, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas C Südhof, Jack W Szostak, Mario Vargas Llosa, J Robin Warren and Eric F Wieschaus.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of February 22, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison, 205 were under arrest pending trial, while only 35 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 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.