Supreme Court says Mehmet Altan should be acquitted while Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should be charged with “aiding a terrorist group without being its member”
The Supreme Court of Appeals has overturned the 2018 verdict by a criminal court that sentenced journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and three of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” according to a news report published by the state-run news agency Anadolu late on 5 July 2019.
The 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that Mehmet Altan, who was released from pre-trial detention in June 2018 by a decision of the appellate court based on a Constitutional Court judgment back in January 2018, should be acquitted, citing lack of sufficient and credible evidence.
As for Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, the court said they should face the lesser charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The decision, as cited by Anadolu, said it could not be proven that the defendants had participated in the crime of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as perpetrators. It said that the case file also failed to offer evidence that Altan and Ilıcak were members of what it called the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization; had organic ties with the hierarchical structure of the group; and were involved in activities that represent a certain degree of continuity, diversity and frequency sufficient to be regarded as qualifying for membership.
However, the Supreme Court judges rejected requests for the release of Altan, Ilıcak and their three co-defendants in the case, who have all been in prison for about three years.
As for three other defendants in the case, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that Fevzi Yazıcı, the former chief page designer of the shuttered daily Zaman, Yakup Şimşek, the newspaper’s marketing director, and former Police Academy lecturer and commentator Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül should be charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” which carries up to 15 years in jail, instead of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
The case is now expected to be sent back to the trial court, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, for retrial.
In January 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mehmet Altan’s detention was in violation of his right to personal liberty and security and freedom of the press and freedom of expression. However, both the trial court and the next court of first instance refused to implement the top court’s judgment and release Altan.
In February 2018, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced the Altans, Ilıcak and three of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as per Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The indictment claimed that the defendants “had prior knowledge of the coup attempt of July 2016,” which the government claims to have been carried out by the religious movement led by Fethullah Gülen.
On 27 June 2018, the appellate court that took up the case ruled that Mehmet Altan should be released on the basis of the Constitutional Court ruling.
In October 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, the appellate court overseeing the case, rejected the appeals and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case.On 3 May 2019, the Constitutional Court rejected the individual applications filed on behalf of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. In its reasoned judgments issued on 26 June 2019, the Constitutional Court said “the assessments made by the investigation authorities and the decisions rendered by the courts that ruled for [the journalists’] detention could not be deemed as ‘arbitrary and baseless’.”