Court rejects requests for Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and their three co-defendants to be released pending trial

The criminal court that sentenced Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and three of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment in the “coup” case in 2018 will begin the retrial of the case on 8 October.

The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which issued its decision for retrial on 18 July, rejected the requests for Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and their three co-defendants to be released pending trial. All five have been in pre-trial detention for almost three years as part of the case.

The trial court rejected the requests for release on the grounds of “the nature and specifics of the leveled accusation; the evidence at hand; the specifics of judgments rendered by relevant authorities during the appeal process as well as by the Constitutional Court during the individual application phase and the facts established in the said judgments; and substantial evidence that constitute strong suspicion of guilt.” The panel also cited “flight risk” and “the insufficiency of judicial control measures that would be imposed on the defendants” among the grounds for rejecting the requests for release pending trial. The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul also ruled for Mehmet Altan, who was released last summer by a decision of the appellate court, to be “forcibly brought to the hearing.”

The retrial comes on the heels of a judgment by the Supreme Court of Appeals earlier this month, which overturned the trial court’s 2018 verdict and ordered a retrial. The 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals had ruled that Mehmet Altan, who was released from pre-trial detention in June 2018 by a decision of the appellate court based on a Constitutional Court judgment, should be acquitted, while Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should face the lesser charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” The 16th Criminal Chamber had also ruled that Altans’ co-defendants Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül should be charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

In February 2018, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul had convicted novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and professor of economics Mehmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, Zaman daily’s former chief page designer Fevzi Yazıcı, the newspaper’s marketing director Yakup Şimşek and former Police Academy lecturer and commentator Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

The indictment claimed that the defendants “had prior knowledge of the coup attempt of July 2016,” which the government claims to have been carried out by the members of the religious movement led by Fethullah Gülen.

On 27 June 2018, the appellate court that took up the case ruled that Mehmet Altan should be released on the basis of the Constitutional Court judgment.

However, in October 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, the appellate court overseeing the case, rejected the appeals and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case.

Earlier this year, on 3 May, the Constitutional Court rejected the individual applications filed on behalf of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. In its reasoned judgments issued on 26 June, the Constitutional Court said “the assessments made by the investigation authorities and the decisions rendered by the courts that ruled for [the journalists’] detention could not be deemed as ‘arbitrary and baseless’.”

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