Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Court rejects appeals against life sentences in Altans case

Court rejects appeals against life sentences in Altans case

Appellate court rules to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars, case now headed for Supreme Court of Appeals


Jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, his brother, professor of economics and longtime newspaper columnist Mehmet Altan, veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, Fevzi Yazıcı, the chief page designer of the shuttered Zaman daily, and their two co-defendants gave their final defense statements before a Regional Court of Justice on 2 October in what marked the second hearing in the appeal process.

At the end of the hearing, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, the appellate court overseeing the trial, rejected the appeals against the aggravated life sentences given in February by the trial court, and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case.

The case is now headed for the Supreme Court of Appeals.

In February, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul had sentenced the Altans, Ilıcak and four of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as per Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK).

The first appeal hearing was on 21 September, when the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting that all six defendants be given aggravated life sentences on the same charge.

Mehmet Altan, who was released from prison in June as per a Constitutional Court ruling, his co-defendants Ilıcak, Yazıcı, Zaman’s marketing director Yakup Şimşek, and former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, all of whom are still jailed, as well as defense lawyers were in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing. Ahmet Altan addressed the court from the Silivri Prison via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS.

In addition to P24, main opposition CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu and a representative from English PEN monitored the hearing.

Nazlı Ilıcak: Not even one piece of substantial evidence

Ilıcak was the first defendant to address the court during Tuesday’s hearing. Ilıcak said in her statement that her defense statements were being ignored despite having already rebutted all accusations against her.

Noting that during her time as a columnist for the shuttered Bugün daily, the newspaper’s owner Akın İpek did not face any investigations, Ilıcak added that allegations that Can Erzincan TV, where she hosted a political discussion show, was linked with the Fethullah Gülen movement, should be clarified by the station’s owner, Recep Aktaş.

Calling attention to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in favor of Mehmet Altan, Ilıcak told the court that she was facing similar accusations with Altan and that the top court’s ruling should set a precedent for defendants with similar facts.

In its ruling concerning the commencement of appeal proceedings, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice had ruled for Mehmet Altan’s release on the grounds of the Constitutional Court’s 11 January 2018 judgment. The top court had found that Altan’s pretrial detention was in violation of his right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press and his right to liberty and security.

Ilıcak also noted that the “coup” charges against the defendants were dropped in the later stages of the proceedings in two recent major media trials, one of them being the “Zaman trial.”

“The prosecutor has not presented even one substantial evidence as to why I would want to serve the interests of the [Gülen] movement,” Ilıcak said, adding that throughout her four decades long career as a journalist she has always defended justice and democracy.

The full text of Ilıcak’s defense statement (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

Fevzi Yazıcı’s lawyer: Accusations are aimed at causing sensation 

Following Ilıcak, Yazıcı addressed the court for his final defense statement. 

Yazıcı was found guilty by the trial court on grounds that he had taken part in the preparation of a TV commercial for Zaman, which allegedly “hinted at an impending coup.” 

Rejecting the accusations, Yazıcı said there were still a great number of questions that needed to be clarified as to the accusations. “What orders did the military take from the said commercial?” demanded Yazıcı. He requested to be acquitted and released.

His lawyer also told the court that the accusations in the case file in relation to the commercial were aimed at causing a sensation. The lawyer also added that the newspaper’s former editor in chief Ekrem Dumanlı had responsibility over the commercial, which was actually approved by the Turkish broadcasting watchdog RTÜK. The lawyer requested that Yazıcı be acquitted and released.

Mehmet Altan: Appellate court ruling is proof that I was detained despite not being guilty

The afternoon session in the second hearing got underway with Mehmet Altan’s final defense statement.

Stating that his detention was in violation of the constitution, Altan said the aggravated life imprisonment given by the trial court was also a violation of the same kind and added that the trial court’s refusal to implement the Constitutional Court ruling marked a first in the history of law in Turkey.

Altan said that the appellate court’s ruling for his release was proof that he was detained despite not being guilty.

Expressing frustration over the prosecutor insisting on the original charge despite both the Constitutional Court’s and the appellate court’s rulings in his favor, Altan said the government has even paid him non-pecuniary damages in compensation for his detention as per the Constitutional Court ruling.

Altan said the prosecutor’s final opinion was unconstitutional. He added that no law articles set out any crime called “immaterial force,”  which is among the charges in the prosecutor’s final opinion.

Making detailed references to both the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights judgments in his favor, Altan said he was jailed for almost two years despite both rulings. Altan added: “I was dismissed by the university where I taught for three decades. And now the prosecutor in the appeal case is seeking aggravated life sentence. Is this truly a constitutional state?”

Addressing the court following Altan, his lawyer, Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, said the trial court neglected the evidence and denied the defense the right to interrogate witnesses in court. Çalıkuşu said that the appeal trial also included similar unlawful practices. She explained: “The witness was supposed to be heard at court, but no summons was issued for the witness. We [the defense] found out in the first appeal hearing on 21 September that the witness was already heard on 19 September. This is in violation of the procedures laid out by the law.”

The full text of Mehmet Altan’s defense statement (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

Şükrü Özşengül: Why am I in this trial?

After the completion of Mehmet Altan’s defense statement, his co-defendant Özşengül addressed the court.

A former Police Academy lecturer and political commentator, Özşengül said he was being subjected to the kind of criminal law seen in fascist regimes. “In what other way am I supposed to prove my intention?” demanded Özşengül, adding: “I am facing aggravated life imprisonment, but no evidence is laid out. It shouldn't be this easy to incriminate people.”

Noting that his being among defendants in a journalists trial was unusual, Özşengül said he was not a journalist and that the impact of his words as a political commentator was also limited, based on the ratings of the shows he appeared in.

In his closing statement, Özşengül’s lawyer told the court that his client suffered a heart attack in jail and that he is a cardiac patient, requesting his client’s acquittal and release.

Yakup Şimşek: I want to see my elderly parents

Following Özşengül, Şimşek addressed the court for his final defense statement. 

Asserting that he has been in jail for 793 days, Şimşek said he has responded to all five allegations against him.

“The prosecutor demanded [in his final opinion] that the [trial court] verdict is upheld by the appellate court. This is not a fair request that even the prosecutor does not believe. By using the phrase ‘intangible threat,’ the prosecutor himself admits that there is no substantial evidence [against me]. But he still goes on to seek aggravated life imprisonment, which corresponds to capital punishment in the older version of the law,” Şimşek said.

Requesting to be acquitted, Şimşek said if that was not going to happen, he was then requesting for his release pending the outcome of the proceedings. “I want to see my elderly parents,” he added.

Addressing the court after Şimşek, his lawyer said the trial court’s verdict needed to be overturned based on lack of evidence in the case file and on the grounds that the defense statements were ignored. The lawyer said the verdict would “eventually be overturned, either by the appellate court, the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Constitutional Court, or the European Court of Human Rights.”

Ahmet Altan: Can intangible threat be supported with substantial evidence? 

Ahmet Altan was the last defendant to address the court during the hearing.

“This ugly vaudeville of a trial that began with ‘subliminal messages’ and reached its peak with the prosecutor’s latest accusation of ‘intangible threat’ has shown us the truth we have been facing,” Altan said, adding: “Firstly, that a certain someone is hellbent on our continued imprisonment. Secondly, that it is impossible to keep us in prison through lawful methods. And, that some members of the judiciary can even risk their reputation, or committing crime due to the desperation that is caused by the conflict between the desire to keep us in jail at all costs and the reality of the rule of law.”

“There is not even one substantial evidence in this case file,” Altan continued, adding: “That is why [the prosecution] has been coming up with absurdities like ‘subliminal message,’ ‘immaterial force’ and ‘intangible threat’.”

“I do not mind spending my life in a prison cell because I feel as though I have been wandering among the pages of a comic book. Nothing seems be of gravity or scary,” Altan said. “If you try and reach a guilty verdict based on accusations such as ‘subliminal,’ ‘immaterial force’ or ‘intangible threat’ that verdict loses all its gravity.”

“Can an intangible threat be supported with substantial evidence?” Altan asked, adding that the prosecutor’s final opinion was also ignoring the Constitutional Court’s judgment in favor of Mehmet Altan by way of alleging crime without concrete evidence.

The full text of Ahmet Altan’s defense statement (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

Taking the floor after Ahmet Altan, his lawyer Ergin Cinmen told the court at the beginning of his closing statement that this has been the toughest case of his career. “We have been trying to prove that something that does not exist is nonexistent. What we have been going through for the past two years is a legal tragedy,” Cinmen said, adding: “No act is being put on trial here. There is no such thing as ‘immaterial force’ or ‘intangible threat.’ But if what is being put on trial here is Ahmet Altan himself, then this amounts to the Inquisition.”

After the conclusion of the defense statements, the court took a brief recess, after which it announced its verdict, refusing to overrule the trial court’s verdict, which gave aggravated life sentences to all six defendants. The court also ruled for the continuation of the detention of imprisoned defendants.