Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) and ARTICLE 19 issued a joint statement on 5 November 2019, welcoming Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak’s release at the end of their retrial on 4 November, while calling for the quashing of convictions for all defendants in the case and the release of those still in prison.
The full statement is as follows:
Partners P24 and ARTICLE 19 welcome yesterday’s release of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak after more than three years of pre-trial detention and the acquittal of Mehmet Altan.
In an exclusive quote following his release, Ahmet Altan, co-founder of P24 and said:
“As much as I am happy to be among the people I love and be able to see the sky again, this is no time for jubilation. It is hard to receive the news of one’s release when you’re among other innocent people – thousands of them – who are being kept in prison unjustly.”
The releases followed outrageous verdicts at the retrial of Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and others, with harsh prison sentences meted out for ‘aiding’ or ‘membership of’ a terrorist organisation. The two journalists were sentenced to 10 years six months and eight years nine months respectively for ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member.’ Following the conviction, the 26th Istanbul Serious Crimes Court ruled to release Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak from detention considering the time they have already served – well over three years each – in prison. Mehmet Altan was acquitted of all charges.
While we welcome the acquittal of Mehmet Altan and release of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak from detention, we reiterate that they should never have been prosecuted. Other defendants in the case remain in prison, after a trial and then a retrial in which their right to a fair trial was violated.
Justice will not be done until the Turkish authorities stop harassing all those exercising their right to freedom of expression and credible steps are taken to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
Mehmet Altan was acquitted yesterday of all charges in a verdict handed down at the second hearing in the retrial by the 26th Istanbul Serious Crimes Court. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were released from detention considering time served, and sentenced to 10 years six months and eight years nine months respectively for ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member’. The detention of the remaining defendants continues with Fevzi Yazıcı and Yakup Şimşek sentenced to 10 years 15 months and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül to 12 years for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’.
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19 said:
“Today Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak feel the relief of their release after over three years of unjust imprisonment, but the judicial harassment of these writers continues with this outrageous verdict. Their ordeal will not be over until their convictions are quashed and they are compensated for the time they unjustly spent in prison away from their loved ones.
While we celebrate these releases, we will continue to fight for those that remain in jail on politically-motivated charges. We will follow the appeals process in this case and call for their convictions to be quashed. There is no credible evidence of a crime against these individuals.”
The stark contrast in the outcome for Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet, despite the nearly identical circumstances of their cases, underscores the politicised, arbitrary nature of judicial decisions and the lack of expectation of justice for journalists on trial in the country. The Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights recognised that Mehmet’s right to liberty and security, in addition to his right to freedom of expression were violated; while the Constitutional Court ruled there was no violation in the case of Ahmet Altan. Furthermore, while the Supreme Court of Appeals acknowledged that the evidence against Mehmet Altan was baseless, some of the same evidence was relied on for the conviction of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, including their comments during a TV interview on the day before the 2016 coup attempt.
Ahmet Altan’s case remains pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
ARTICLE 19 monitored all hearings in the trial and the retrial in this case, intervened with an amicus brief in the domestic proceedings and has consistently raised concerns about violations of the right to a fair trial. A19 also led the third party interventions on the cases before the ECtHR.
Harsh sentences have now been handed out for terrorism-related crimes on the basis of evidence which appears to consist entirely of conduct which is not itself criminal, or, on its face, evidence of a link with a terrorist organisation.
We call for the quashing of all the defendants’ convictions and the release of those still in prison. All defendants should be compensated for the time they spent unjustly imprisoned. Rather than window-dressing reforms such as the Judicial Reform Package, the Turkish authorities must take credible steps to ensure the independence of the judiciary and must cease the harassment of individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression.