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.

Prosecutor asks for life in the Altans trial

Prosecutor asks for life in the Altans trial

Court removes restriction to lawyer visiting hours and rejects a demand to seize assets owned by suspects

The fourth hearing in the trial where seven defendants, including journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, stand accused of supporting Turkey’s failed coup of July 15, 2016 was heard on December 11 by the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court.

The prosecutor submitted his final opinion in the hearing, seeking aggravated life imprisonment for six of the defendants on the charge of “Attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The prosecutor sought up to three years in prison for the seventh defendant, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, who is the owner of an ad agency hired by the shuttered Zaman newspaper, on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

The court also ruled, in its interim decision, to keep all of the imprisoned defendants in prison and adjourned the trial until 12-16 February 2018. The Prime Ministry demanded to intervene in the case as a co-plaintiff. The court said it would evaluate this request later. Another request by the Prime Ministry -- to seize assets owned by the defendants -- was rejected by the court.

Those who are on trial and currently under arrest in the trial are journalists Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan, Zaman daily's chief page designer and art director Fevzi Yazıcı, Zaman’s brand manager Yakup Şimşek and retired Police Academcy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül.

Prosecutor’s final opinion

The prosecutor asked for life imprisonment for the imprisoned defendants, dropping the additional charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization” directed at the Altan brothers and Ilıcak, and of “membership in a terrorist organization” for the other defendants, included in the initial indictment. Both crimes are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Defendants Ilıcak, Özşengül, Şimşek and Sanlıman were present in the courtroom while Ahmet and Mehmet Altan attended from Silivri Prison via the courtroom conferencing system SEGBİS. Fevzi Yazıcı, who was testifying in another investigation, wasn’t brought to the courtroom.

Early on in the hearing, which began at 11:00, the presiding judge announced that the Prime Ministry and the Parliament have sought to intervene in the case as plaintiffs. The lawyers representing the Prime Ministry also asked for seizure of the defendants’ financial assets.

The presiding judge read out a conversation between Erkam Tufan and other individuals, none of whom are defendants in the case, taken from a mobile phone app called ByLock, which Turkish authorities say was used exclusively by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network, which is allegedly behind the 15 July 2016 coup attempt.

Ilıcak: I asked for the corrupt to be held accountable

Nazlı Ilıcak spoke during the hearing, saying the indictment was based not on concrete evidence but on jumping to conclusions about the intentions of the defendants. She said: “I tell them I didn’t know there was going to be a coup attempt; they tell me ‘No, you did.’ I tell them I didn’t know that FETÖ was trying to take over the state; they tell me ‘Yes, you did.'"

Ilıcak said her article and tweets cited in the indictment were about her demand that those who engage in corruption be held accountable. “All newspapers announced corruption claims in their front page stories. Is asking for fighting corruption, demanding that corruption is investigated serving FETÖ?”

She said she never wanted for the government to be overthrown. “I used to vote for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party),” she said, adding. “FETÖ hated Erdoğan, I never hated him. There is not a single presidential insult case against me.”

Speaking about her tweet “The EU doesn’t see the cemaat [the Fethullah Gülen network] as a terror organization,” she said she was being accused for stating that fact, adding that such reports -- on the EU not treating the Islamist group as a terrorist organization -- recently appeared in many newspapers which reported on the statements of a senior EU official that the EU doesn’t see “FETÖ” as a terrorist organization.

She said there was no way she could have helped the network to take over the state. Saying that she didn’t have any powers of promotion or dismissal, Ilıcak said those who made the appointments of any new personnel should answer the question how Gülen supporters came to occupy posts in the bureaucracy.

Yakup Şimşek: I didn’t have any role in filming TV ad

Şimşek, who submitted his final statement, spoke about a television commercial which shows a baby laughing  in the end, which the prosecutors interpret as being a subliminal call to stage a coup d’état against the government. Şimşek said he hadn’t played a role in any stage of the creation of the script, noting that his only role in the transaction was negotiating the price with the producer. He also said he didn’t believe the ad contained a hidden coup message.

Şimşek also called on Sanlıman, the other defendant, to accept that he drafted the scenario for the ad.

“I was handcuffed in intensive care”

Defendant Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül said he had had a heart attack 20 days prior. He said it took prison officials six-and-a-half hours to take him to the hospital, and that they put handcuffs around his wrists when he was in the intensive care unit at the hospital. He also said he was denied his medication for five consecutive days after returning to prison.

The presiding judge interrupted Özşengül several times, asking him not to speak about his health condition. Özşengül said he was merely expressing his demand to be released, explaining that keeping people in prison could have dire consequences.

Mehmet Altan: I am kept by serious violations for 15 months

Mehmet Altan offered a brief submission, saying he would submit his final defense statement later. He said that the ByLock correspondence read by the judge showed clearly that he had no affiliation with the Gülen network, as the speakers in the chat only referred to him as an intellectual, listing him with other individuals within the context of inviting him and the others to a planned public event. He also said that his lawyers had obtained the transcript of the ByLock conversation, which was very different from the excerpt presented by the  prosecutor, who clearly took out many sentences which appeared before and after Mehmet Altan’s name, making it appear as if the speakers were mentioning him as part of a different plan.

He also recalled a recent high court decision which clearly states that actual and physical violence should be present for establishing a coup-related crime.

Ahmet Altan: I have demands and complaints

Ahmet Altan said the prosecutor had tampered with evidence, changing the ByLock transcripts. “This is a crime,” he said.

The presiding judge turned down the volume of the television set where Ahmet Altan was addressing the court.

Altan said seizing his and his brother’s assets cannot possibly solve anything. “This is the abuse of the judiciary for ill intentions” he said.

In the final session, lawyers for the defendants spoke. Ergin Cinmen, the lawyer for the Altan brothers said the court had consistently violated their right to a fair trial and their right to defending themselves, recalling that he and the other lawyers representing Altan were thrown out of the courtroom in the last hearing.

He asked for the prosecutor to read out the parts in the indictment which he thinks constitute a crime, a discussion on the evidence in the case file, hearing the two witnesses which the court earlier decided not to hear and hearing testimony from several other individuals mentioned although not accused in the indictment. He also asked if any of the articles presented as evidence for the allegations in the indictment had ever been investigated.

Lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu asked the court to record evidence in favor of the suspects in the case logs. She said the court should be able to comfortably say that if Mehmet and Ahmet Altan hadn’t written their articles, than the coup attempt wouldn’t have taken place, to establish the presence of a coup-related crime.