Lawyer Çalıkuşu: Prosecutor seeks higher-than-minimum sentence for Ahmet Altan for his thoughts. Is this how judicial reform safeguards expression?

 

Lawyer for imprisoned journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan and his brother, academic and writer Mehmet Altan, issued a statement on 1 November 2019 in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion in the Altans case, which seeks a higher-than-minimum sentence for Ahmet Altan for “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being its member.”

The prosecutor’s opinion, dated 31 October 2019, asks the court to sentence Ahmet Altan and five other co-defendants – journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, former art director of the shuttered Zaman newspaper Fevzi Yazıcı, the daily’s marketing director Yakup Şimşek and former Police Academy lecturer and political commentator Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül – on terrorism charges and that the sentences be above the minimum prison term prescribed by the law. As for Mehmet Altan, who was released in June 2018 on account of a Constitutional Court ruling that his pre-trial detention had amounted to violation of his rights, the prosecutor requests acquittal. Second hearing in re-trial of the case, launched after a Supreme Court of Appeals decision overturning earlier convictions on charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” will be held on 4 November.

In comments later in the day on 31 October, Altan brothers’ lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said the prosecutor’s opinion was “scandalous” and that it “nullifies the judicial reform” which went into force last month. An amendment to Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, introduced as part of the judicial reform package, stipulates that “expressions of thought within the bounds of criticism or for reporting purposes cannot be prosecuted.”

“Punishing thoughts”

In her statement on 1 November, Çalıkuşu said the prosecutor’s opinion, by seeking continuation of pre-trial detention of Ahmet Altan who has already been in jail for 1135 days and eventually a prison term that is higher than the minimum, was yet another attempt to “punish thoughts.”

“According to the prosecutor, Ahmet Altan aided an armed terrorist organization, without knowing that it was a terrorist organization or its eventual goals and without being a part of its hierarchical structure, through three articles he penned for the purposes of political analysis and criticism and the thoughts he expressed during a TV program,” Çalıkuşu said, referring to the evidence relied on by the prosecutor. “And how does the prosecution reach this conclusion? By criminalizing the ‘unfavorable’ thoughts Ahmet Altan had expressed. Here, thought is the crime and its expression is the evidence.”

Touching on the recent judicial reform, she said the amendment to the Anti-Terror Law had become a necessity because of the judicial practices of the past few years that effectively destroyed the line between crimes of terrorism and expressions of thought.

“The state prosecutor argues that a journalist aided a terrorist organization because he had expressed his thoughts ‘at a time when the possibility of an armed uprising/a coup by members [of the terrorist group] who infiltrated the armed forces of the state was seen strongly likely’. Because he thought and expressed these thoughts as part of his constitutional rights that he had thought were safeguarded,” Çalıkuşu wrote. “Is this how the judicial reform safeguards expression of the thought?”

The judicial reform package, which was passed in Parliament on 18 October 2019 and formally went into force on 24 October, has so far resulted in release of at least 10 journalists who were given less than five years in prison mostly on terrorism-related charges. One of the clauses of the judicial reform package specifies that those who were given less than five years in jail will also have the right to take their cases to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Most recently, Eren Erdem, a former opposition CHP deputy and editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Karşı newspaper, was released by an appellate court, which relied on the amendment introduced as part of the judicial reform.

Lawyers in the Sözcü newspaper case, where the owner, journalists and columnists of the case are charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member,” also argued at the latest hearing this week that the prosecutor should review the charges in light of the amendment in the Anti-Terror Law and the court agreed to ask the prosecutor to review the case file with a view to changing his final opinion.

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