Five defendants convicted of terrorism-related charges as retrial of Altans case concludes; Mehmet Altan acquitted
Novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak were both convicted of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” on 4 November 2019, at the end of the retrial of the “coup” case against them. The court ruled to release both, taking into consideration the time they spent in pre-trial detention.
Ruling in line with the prosecutor’s final opinion, the court convicted three of their co-defendants -- Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül -- of “membership in a terrorist group” and ruled for the continuation of their detention.
Mehmet Altan was acquitted and the judicial control measures imposed on him were lifted.
Altan and Ilıcak were released from the Silivri Prison and Bakırköy Women's Prison respectively as per the court decision later in the day.
This was the second hearing in the retrial of Altans case, overseen by the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which had sentenced six defendants in the case to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in February 2018, at the end of the original trial.
The retrial followed on the heels of a Supreme Court of Appeals judgment in July that overturned the aggravated life imprisonment sentences and ruled that Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak should instead be charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” Mehmet Altan should be acquitted, and their three co-defendants should be charged with “membership in a terrorist group.” The indictment claimed that all seven defendants in the case had prior knowledge of the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, which the government says was masterminded by the Fethullah Gülen network.
P24 monitored Monday’s hearing, where Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan as well as defense lawyers were present in the courtroom. Ahmet Altan, Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül addressed the court via the judicial video conferencing system SEGBİS from the Silivri Prison, where they have been in detention on remand for over three years as part of this case. In addition to P24, representatives from the Swedish Consulate General in Istanbul, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRCEW) and rights groups Article 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International were among those monitoring the hearing.
At the beginning of the hearing, the prosecutor reiterated his final opinion which he submitted to the court last week. In his final opinion, the prosecutor asked the court to acquit journalist and Professor of Economics Mehmet Altan but convict his brother, Ahmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, former Zaman staffers Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek, and former Police Academy lecturer and political commentator Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül of terrorism-related charges. The prosecutor requested the continuation of the detention of all five jailed defendants and sought sentences above the minimum prison term prescribed by the law for all five.
Lawyer representing Parliament files motion seeking life imprisonment
Ahead of Monday’s hearing, the lawyer representing the Parliament, which is a co-plaintiff in the case, filed a motion seeking the reversal of the court’s decision to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the “coup” convictions. The motion requested that the court insist on its verdict in the original trial and sentence all six defendants, including Mehmet Altan, to aggravated life imprisonment.
Ilıcak: The principle of equal treatment is being violated
The court heard Ilıcak’s defense statement first. Asserting that the prosecutor’s final opinion made the same allegations as the ones in the original trial, Ilıcak explained that she wrote columns for Bugün newspaper, not “Özgür Bugün,” which never existed.
She said the accusation “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” was specifically formulated to be leveled against journalists. Ilıcak reminded the court that the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the convictions in their case was “not a verdict that convicted me of knowingly aiding a terrorist group, but a ruling that told the court to review the case from this vantage point.”
Adding that some of the allegations against her were similar to those against her co-defendant Mehmet Altan, Ilıcak said: “The prosecutor is seeking Mehmet Altan’s acquittal but is asking the court to punish me over the same TV program. This amounts to a violation of the principle of equal treatment.”
The presiding judge then interrupted Ilıcak, asking her to deliver her statement more rapidly.
Continuing with her statement afterwards, Ilıcak defended her social media posts that are held as evidence against her. She said that when taken into consideration as a whole, her Twitter posts proved that she was against the coup. The presiding judge then interrupted Ilıcak for a second time, asking her to wrap up her statement.
As she concluded her statement, Ilıcak asserted that she “did not knowingly and willingly aid a terrorist organization” and asked to be acquitted and released.
Özşengül: Allegations amount to slander
Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül addressed the court next. Asserting in his statement that there was not substantial evidence against the defendants in the case file, Özşengül said the articles he wrote did not include any remarks that supported, praised or defended the Gülen network. He said his columns were an exercising of the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Constitution.
Asserting that the court convicted him at the end of the original trial based on the indictment against him, as if he never made a defense statement, Özşengül said: “A conviction requires clear and convincing proof of criminal activity. The allegations against me in the case file that do not even constitute reasonable doubt amount to slander.
“The prosecutor claims in his final opinion that we ‘operated under the disguise of journalism.’ I spent 34 years with the Police Academy. I never claimed to be a journalist. I am a lecturer,” he added.
Rejecting the accusations against him, Özşengül requested to be acquitted.
Yazıcı and Şimşek: Lawful employment held as evidence against us
In the afternoon session, the court first heard Zaman’s former design chief Fevzi Yazıcı’s defense statement. Yazıcı said he only saw his lawyer once after the prosecutor submitted his final opinion and asked the court to grant him additional time for his defense statement. The presiding judge rejected Yazıcı’s request, saying that none of the defendants was granted additional time. Asserting that the “membership in a terrorist group” charge in the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling was based on his lawful employment at Zaman, Yazıcı said this was not a crime and asked to be acquitted.
Şimşek, the former brand manager of Zaman, also told the court at the beginning of his statement that he did not know before the hearing that this was going to be his final defense statement. “I was going to ask for additional time to prepare my final statement in response to the prosecutor’s opinion, which I could only see on Friday,” Şimşek said. Asserting that his employment with Zaman was being held as evidence against him, Şimşek rejected the accusations and asked to be acquitted and released.
Ahmet Altan: The prosecutor is incriminating himself in his final opinion
Ahmet Altan addressed the court next. Saying that the prosecutor’s final opinion was a three-page long document full of contradictions and lies, Altan said the prosecutor was actually incriminating himself with this document.
“The prosecutor claims in his final opinion that I ‘said the coup of 15 July would take place.’ This is a lie. I never made such a remark and there is no evidence supporting this allegation,” Altan said.
He continued: “But the sentence that follows in the final opinion constitutes the basis of the prosecutor’s confession to his crime. The prosecutor says: ‘It is not possible to have prior knowledge of the coup attempt without acting in unison with the terrorist group.’ So according to the prosecutor, in order to have prior knowledge of the coup, this person must be acting in unison with the putschists. But then the prosecutor mentions ‘articles written during a period when the likelihood of a coup was deemed relatively high.’ So he is saying that there was a strong likelihood of a coup ahead of 15 July 2016. And the prosecutor was aware of this likelihood. But since the prosecutor argued that it was ‘not possible to have prior knowledge of the coup attempt without acting in unison with terrorists,’ then I would like to ask the prosecutor which putschists did he act in unison to find out about the likelihood of a coup.
“I stand behind everything that I have said and written up until now. If your goal is to keep me in prison, you can do that for as long as you want. I am not afraid of prison. I’d rather spend the rest of my life in prison than fear such a government. As long as this government keeps me in prison on these justifications, the ones who keep me in prison also become smaller. And no one has the power to change this equation.
“The law has such magnificent power and it is because it strengthens and enlarges all who hold on to it. I do not move away from the law and honesty, and I suggest everyone else to do the same,” Ahmet Altan concluded his statement.
Mehmet Altan: Prosecutor’s final opinion reiterates nullified allegations
Mehmet Altan, who was released from pre-trial detention in June 2018 based on the Constitutional Court’s judgment concerning his individual application, was the last defendant to address the court.
Pointing out that the prosecutor’s final opinion reiterated the allegations in the initial indictment, Altan said those allegations were nullified as a result of judgments by the Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“Because the indictment repeated in the prosecutor’s final opinion is not a lawful indictment, my constitutional rights were found to be violated and the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled for my acquittal,” Altan said.
“Throughout this trial, I have witnessed the existence of a will that seeks to disregard the constitutional order, trying to achieve this goal within the state. The primary target of this mob has always been the Constitution. Very dangerously they attempted to disregard the Constitution.
“I am still suffering from my unlawful detention as part of this case even though I was paid compensation [which was ordered by the Constitutional Court]. This has to be remedied according to both the Constitution and Supreme Court of Appeals case-law,” Altan said as he concluded his statement, requesting to be acquitted as per the Supreme Court ruling.
After Mehmet Altan completed his statement, the court went on to hear defense lawyers.
Ahmet Altan’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu and Nazlı Ilıcak’s lawyer Kemal Ertuğ Derin told the court that their clients should be acquitted based on the amendments introduced in the Law on the Fight against Terrorism (TMK) with last month’s Judicial Reform Package. All defense lawyers requested the court to acquit their clients.
Following the completion of defense lawyers’ closing arguments, the panel said they would take a 20-minute recess for deliberation. The bailiff then announced that the recess was “open-ended” and that the panel would not be announcing their verdict until after 7 p.m.
The panel returned to the courtroom at 7:45 p.m. Announcing their verdict, the court acquitted Mehmet Altan and lifted all judicial control measures imposed on him. The court sentenced Ahmet Altan to 10 years and 6 months in prison and Ilıcak to 8 years and 9 months on the charge of “aiding a terrorist group without being its member” and ruled to release both, taking into account the time they spent in pretrial detention. The court imposed an international travel ban on both Altan and Ilıcak.Their co-defendants Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek were each sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in prison and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül was given a prison sentence of 12 years on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group.” The court ruled to keep all three behind bars.