Nazlı Ilıcak, a well-known columnist, TV host and former parliamentarian aged 75, was arrested on 26 July 2016 as part of an operation targeting journalists alleged to have links with the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist network (FETÖ/PDY) and staging the 15 July 2016 coup attempt.
Ilıcak, who wrote for the mainstream media for decades, was a commentator for Özgür Düşünce newspaper, run mostly by former journalists of Zaman who were fired from the daily after it was taken over by a court-appointed board of trustees in March 2016, and Can Erzincan TV before she was arrested. Both outlets were closed down by an emergency decree that was issued on 27 July 2016, along with more than 100 other media institutions.
Ilıcak and 16 other journalists were imprisoned pending trial on 30 July, reportedly on charges of “being members of a terrorist organization.” On 14 April 2017, Anadolu news agency reported that an indictment sent to the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court in April 2017 seeks three aggravated life sentences for Ilıcak on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament, and the government” and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The prosecutor accuses Ilıcak and 16 other people cited in the indictment, mostly journalists, of “participating” in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, maintaining that they knew the coup attempt beforehand and thus were in collaboration with the coup plotters.
(The full text of the indictment against Ilıcak and other defendants — in Turkish — can be accessed here.)
Ilıcak and six other people, five of whom are in pre-trial detention, appeared before the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court for the first hearing of the case on 19-23 June 2017.
Ilıcak rejected all accusations and requested her release, saying she had no intention to leave the country. The court, announcing its interim ruling at the end of the five-day hearing, decided to keep all six imprisoned defendants in pre-trial detention.
Ilıcak again rejected the accusations and said no evidence has been presented to support them at the second hearing, held on 19 September 2017.
On 13 November, at the end of the third hearing, the court again ruled to keep all defendants behind bars.
The fourth hearing in the trial was held on 11 December 2017 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.
The fifth and final hearing in the case was held on 12-16 February. The first day of the hearing took place on 12 February at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan, but the rest of the trial was moved to a courtroom inside the Silivri Prison complex.
Ilıcak presented her final defense statement to the court on the second day of the hearing on 13 February, when she rejected the accusations once again. The full text of her defense statement (in Turkish) can be found here.
On 16 February 2018, Ilıcak and five of her co-defendants in the case were convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.
Appellate court ruling
Defense lawyers appealed the verdict with the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. The appellate court formally accepted the case on 27 June 2018 and ruled to release Ilıcak’s co-defendant Mehmet Altan based on an earlier Constitutional Court ruling but decided to keep the rest of the defendants, including Ilıcak, in jail.
The first appellate court hearing took take place on 21 September 2018, when six defendants in the case made their defense statements before the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice.
After the defense statements, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion of the case, insisting on the original charge and requesting that the defendants be given aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the appellate court rejected requests from defense lawyers for the release of the five imprisoned defendants and adjourned the trial until 2 October 2018 to allow time for the defendants and their lawyers to prepare their final defense statements.
During the final hearing on 2 October 2018, six defendants made their final defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.
Nazlı Ilıcak was the first defendant to address the court during the hearing. She 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.
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-decade career as a journalist she has always defended justice and democracy.
Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeals against the aggravated life sentences given by the trial court and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case, including Ilıcak.
Supreme Court of Appeals ruling
On 8 January 2019, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals requested the reversal of the trial court’s verdict in the case.
The Office of the General Prosecutor said in their judicial opinion submitted to the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals that Ilıcak and the Altan brothers should have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” instead of the much serious charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
The judicial opinion asserted that “force and violence” were the essential elements of the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as described in TCK 309, adding that the concepts of “immaterial force” or “threat” were unacceptable in proving this charge in respect of the principle of legality.
On 5 July 2019, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the verdict rendered by the trial court that sentenced Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and three of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “Attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”
The Chamber ruled that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted while Nazlı Ilıcak and Ahmet Altan should face the lesser charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, issuing its decision for retrial on 18 July 2019, said it would take up the case on 8 October 2019.
The court rejected the requests for Ilıcak and her four jailed co-defendants, who have all been in pre-trial detention for more than three years as part of this case, to be released pending trial.
The retrial of the “coup” case against Altans, Ilıcak and their three co-defendants got under way on 8 October 2019 at the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
At the end of the hearing, the court decided to abide by the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling and to keep the five imprisoned defendants in pre-trial detention. The trial adjourned until 4 November 2019.
Verdict and release
The second hearing of the retrial of Altans and Ilıcak case took place on 4 November 2019 at the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court convicted both Nazlı Ilıcak and Ahmet Altan of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and ruled to release both, taking into consideration the time they spent in pre-trial detention. The court handed down Ilıcak a prison sentence of 8 years and 9 months and imposed an international travel ban on both Altan and Ilıcak.
The court acquitted Mehmet Altan and lifted the judicial control measures imposed on him but convicted the three remaining defendants in the case — Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül — of “membership in a terrorist group” and ruled for the continuation of their detention.
Ilıcak was released from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison later on 4 November 2019 as per the court’s ruling after spending more than three years in detention on remand as part of this case.
Constitutional Court application
On 26 April 2019, Turkey’s Constitutional Court announced that its Plenary would take up Ilıcak’s individual application on 2 May 2019, along with those filed on behalf of nine other people, including her co-defendant in the “coup” case, Ahmet Altan.
On 3 May 2019, at the end of the second day of deliberations, the Plenary rejected the individual application of Ilıcak through a unanimous vote, finding no rights violations in her file.
The Constitutional Court’s Plenary issued the judgments concerning its 3 May 2019 decisions on 26 June 2019 on its official website. The judgments concerning the rejected applications said, in a nutshell, that “the assessments made by the investigation authorities and the decisions rendered by the courts that ruled for [the journalists’] arrests could not be deemed as ‘arbitrary and baseless’.”
In January 2018, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a new indictment against Ilıcak, accusing the journalist of “disclosing confidential information crucial to state security for espionage purposes” as per Article 330/1 of the Turkish Penal Code for a newspaper column published on 2 January 2015, in the shuttered Bugün daily, and titled “Askerî İstihbarat ve Tahşiyeciler” (The Military Intelligence and Tahşiyeciler).
Accepting the indictment, the 15th High Criminal Court of Ankara issued a decision of non-jurisdiction and sent the file to Istanbul on grounds that the Bugün newspaper was headquartered in Istanbul during the time of the alleged crime.
Ilıcak gave her statement before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 9 April 2018 at the first hearing of that case, for which she faces life imprisonment.
At the second hearing held on 23 May, the prosecutor asked the court to accept a request from the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff. The prosecutor also requested the expansion of the investigation to find out if Ilıcak talked or wrote about the content of the article in question on television programs, newspapers or social media. Ilıcak, who addressed the court through the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS from the Bakırköy Prison, objected to the prosecutor’s request for the expansion of the investigation, saying that whether an article was used by social media users or other media outlets was not up to the writer of that article. Ilıcak and her lawyers said the case must be dropped given that the Press Law limits the period of time when a court case can be brought against an article published in the press to four months.
In its interim ruling, the court ruled to allow the Defense Ministry to join the case as a co-plaintiff and accepted the prosecutor’s request for expansion of the investigation. The next hearing in the case will be held on 6 September.
The third hearing of this trial was held on 6 September. P24 monitored the hearing at the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, where Ilıcak addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS from Bakırköy Prison.
The prosecution submitted their final opinion of the case during the hearing, requesting yet another aggravated life sentence for the veteran journalist for “disclosing information that must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security of the state,” as per Article 330 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
The fourth hearing in the trial took place on 9 October at the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Ilıcak again addressed the court from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS.
Ilıcak’s final defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion of the case was interrupted by the chief judge, who stated that the panel was the substitute panel of the court, and also that some evidence had yet to be added to the case file. Ilıcak then requested for her acquittal and wrapped up her statement.
Ilıcak’s lawyer Kemal Ertuğ Derin then told the court that the case should be dismissed based on the statute of limitations in Turkey’s Press Law, and requested for his client’s acquittal.
Announcing its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court adjourned the trial until 22 January 2019 awaiting the submission of further documents in the case file.
The fifth and final hearing of this trial took place on 22 January. P24 monitored the hearing, during which Ilıcak addressed the court from the Bakırköy Prison via SEGBİS. Although Ilıcak requested further continuance for an additional defense statement in response to newly introduced evidence against her in the case file, the court rejected Ilıcak’s request and went on to issue its verdict at the end of the hearing, convicting Ilıcak of “disclosing information that should be held secret in order to protect the security of the state” as per Article 329 of the TCK and gave her a prison sentence of 5 years and 10 months.