Turkish prosecutor demands life sentence for jailed journalist Ilıcak for exposing documents on radical group

A Turkish prosecutor on Thursday demanded that a court hand down a life sentence to Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak (73) for publishing an alleged “confidential document” related to al-Qaeda-linked radical Turkish Islamist terrorist group Tahşiyeciler.

Ilıcak (73), a well-known columnist, TV host and former parliamentarian, has spent over two years behind bars since her arrest on July 29, 2016, weeks after Turkey was rocked by a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Already sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” Ilıcak faced additional charges of espionage during her third hearing at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Thursday.

With Ilıcak attending the hearing from Bakırköy Women’s Prison in İstanbul via the Voice and Image Information System (SEGBİS), the prosecutor demanded that Ilıcak be sentenced to life imprisonment for her alleged “exposing for the purpose of political or military espionage state secrets that must be kept confidential in regard to the state’s security, its domestic and foreign interests.”

Defending her journalistic activity in court, Ilıcak said: “I did not publish any document. I only made some instructions about the content of a document. I demand more time to prepare my defense against the claims of the prosecutor.”

The court accepted her demand for more time and adjourned the trial.

The documents that were allegedly published by Ilıcak concern the radical Tahşiyeciler group. The documents reportedly show that Turkey’s state institutions associate Tahsiyeciler with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Intelligence documents prepared by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the General Staff Intelligence Department and the police intelligence department had revealed close links between Tahşiyeciler and al-Qaeda.

In January 2018 the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment accusing Ilıcak of “disclosing confidential information crucial to state security for espionage purposes” as per Article 330/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for a column published on January 2, 2015 by the now-closed Bugün daily and titled “Askerî İstihbarat ve Tahşiyeciler” (Military Intelligence and Tahşiyeciler).

Accepting the indictment, the Ankara 15th High Criminal Court issued a decision of non-jurisdiction and sent the file to İstanbul on the grounds that the Bugün daily was headquartered in İstanbul during the time of the alleged crime.

Ilıcak made her statement to the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on April 9, 2018 during the first hearing of the trial.

At the second hearing, held on May 23, the prosecutor asked the court to accept a request from the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff. The prosecutor also requested an expansion of the investigation to ascertain if Ilıcak spoken or wrote about the content of the article in question on television programs, in newspapers or on social media.

Ilıcak, who addressed the court via SEGBİS from Bakırköy Prison, objected to the prosecutor’s request for expansion of the investigation, saying that whether an article was used by social media users or other media outlets was not up to the writer of that article. She and her lawyers said the case must be dropped given that the Press Law limits the period of time when a court case can be brought due to an article published in the press to four months.

In its interim ruling, the court allowed the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff and accepted the prosecutor’s request for expansion of the investigation. The next hearing in the case will be held on September 6. Ilıcak is currently imprisoned at Bakırköy Women’s Prison in İstanbul.

Turkey became acquainted with Tahşiyeciler in 2009 when police raided cells operated by the radical Islamist group and found caches of weapons and arms in safe houses. Many of its members were arrested, charged and tried.

The government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan helped extricate the group from legal troubles in 2014 when Mehmet Doğan, the leader of the group, was vouched for by President Erdoğan. At the invitation of the government several members of this radical group filed a complaint against the police chiefs and prosecutors who investigated the al-Qaeda-linked group and journalists who wrote critically about it.

In July 2014, based on these complaints, the Erdoğan government arrested 76 top police inspectors who were involved in investigating this radical group and were uncovering the corruption network in which Erdoğan and his associates were incriminated.

Hidayet Karaca, a journalist who headed the Samanyolu TV network, was also arrested for discrediting the al-Qaeda militants. When the unlawful arrests were challenged due to a lack of evidence, judges Metin Özçelik and Mustafa Başer ruled for their release in April 2015, citing the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). But the Erdoğan government did not enforce the judgment and instead dismissed Özçelik and Başer, who were later arrested on fabricated terrorism charges.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 6, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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