Turkish prosecutor in appeals hearing seeks approval of life sentences given to 6 journalists

An İstanbul public prosecutor on Friday asked an appeals court to uphold aggravated life sentences handed down to six jailed journalists including prominent figures Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak.

The journalists were given the sentences by a high criminal court in İstanbul in February after their conviction of attempting to destroy the constitutional order.

The appeals hearing of Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan andIlıcak as well as two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Zaman brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek and art director Fevzi Yazıcı, along with former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül was held at the 2nd chamber of the İstanbul Regional Court of Law, which serves as an appeals court.

Ahmet Altan’s brother, Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, was also given an aggravated life sentence, but he was released pending appeal in June based on a decision of the Constitutional Court which said Altan’s rights were violated during the trial. Mehmet Altan had been in pre-trial detention since September 2016.

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

Announcing his opinion during Friday’s hearing, the prosecutor said the sentences given to the six journalists should be upheld.

During the hearing, journalist Ilıcak presented her defense in tears and asked for her acquittal of all charges. She said she has been against coups her entire life.

Ilıcak also denied having any links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch.

“I am asking for my acquittal. I don’t see myself as a criminal. I think I have refuted all the evidence against me. I have been careful not to present my age as an excuse [not to be imprisoned] during the court proceedings. But I am 74 years old. I spent two freezing winters and two scorching summers in prison. I have seen that I cannot look after myself here. There may be no physical torture, but there is psychological torture,” said Ilıcak.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Şimşek and Özşengül also delivered defense statements during Friday’s hearing and said they were given the aggravated life sentences in the absence of concrete evidence against them.

They all denied having any role in the coup attempt and demanded their acquittal.

The court ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of the five journalists while it set Oct. 2 as the date of the next hearing in the proceedings.

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 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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