Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak’s political commentary on TV and their articles cited among grounds for conviction

The criminal court that oversaw the trial of jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and professor of economics Mehmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, former Zaman staffers Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek and former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül issued its reasoned judgment in writing on 4 December 2019, exactly one month after the retrial concluded.

At the end of the retrial, ordered by the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the 26th High Criminal Court had acquitted Mehmet Altan but convicted Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” handing down prison sentences of 10 years and 6 months and 8 years and 9 months, respectively, and ordering their release pending appeal. However, a week after the court’s release order, Ahmet Altan was rearrested at the request of the prosecutor who objected to his release.

The court had also convicted their co-defendants Yazıcı, Şimşek and Özşengül of “membership of a terrorist group,” sentencing all three to prison terms above 10 years and ordering the continuation of their detention.

At the end of the original trial, in February 2018, the trial court had sentenced all six to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” The indictment alleged that all defendants in the case had prior knowledge of the coup attempt in July 2016.

Commentary on TV and articles “cannot be deemed journalism”

In its 86-page reasoned judgment, the 26th High Criminal Court wrote that Ahmet Altan’s “proven acts that cannot be deemed journalistic activity were of a nature that served the objectives of the [FETÖ/PDY] organization.” The panel of judges held that Altan’s role as the founder and editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf newspaper, his articles published online in the news portal haberdar.com, his articles titled “Ben buradayım benimle konuşun” (I Am Here, Speak with Me) “Mutlak korku” (Absolute fear), “Ezip geçmek” (Beating all hollow) and “Montezuma”; as well as his political commentary on Can Erzincan TV one day ahead of the attempted coup, all of which were held as evidence against him in the case file, were “of a nature that served the interests and objectives of FETÖ/PDY and constituted the crime of aiding the armed terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure.”

The court wrote that the grounds for the sentence imposed on Ahmet Altan to be above the minimum sentence prescribed in law was “the intensity of malice aforethought.”

The judges also wrote that Nazlı Ilıcak’s actions could not be deemed journalistic activity. Being a long-time columnist in “media companies that supported [FETÖ/PDY]”; her 2012 book titled Her Taşın Altında “The Cemaat” mi Var? (Is ‘The Movement’ behind everything?); her political commentary during the program she co-hosted on Can Erzincan TV; as well as her Twitter posts were cited among the grounds for the sentence Ilıcak was given. The judgment said the panel granted a reduction in Ilıcak’s sentence “because she showed remorse during the course of the proceedings.”

No clear and convincing evidence against Mehmet Altan

About its ruling concerning Mehmet Altan, the court wrote that the case file “lacked fact-based grounds that could lead the panel to form the opinion that the defendant acted in line with the objectives of the armed terrorist organization FETÖ/PDY or intended to lay the groundworks for a probable military coup” and that therefore the panel ruled for his acquittal.

The court cited former Zaman staff members Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek’s employment with the shuttered newspaper, their savings accounts at Bank Asya, as well as their alleged “involvement” in the making of a 2015 TV commercial for Zaman, deemed to include references to an impending military coup, as the grounds for the convictions against Yazıcı and Şimşek on the charge of “membership of a terrorist group.”

As for Özşengül, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison on the same charge, the court wrote that his “commentary during a program titled ‘Özgürlük Zamanı’ (Time for freedom), aired online on the day of the attempted coup on STV, where he appeared alongside other media components of the [FETÖ] organization” was considered as evidence by the court in reaching “the conclusion and the opinion that he acted as a member of FETÖ/PDY in line with the organization’s objectives and interests.”

The full text of the reasoned judgment (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

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