Turkey: aggravated life sentences against three journalists must be overturned

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I don’t mind spending my life in a cell because I feel like I am wandering inside a comic book. Nothing feels serious or intimidating – Ahmet Altan

PEN is deeply disappointed by the Istanbul Court ruling to uphold aggravated life sentences against six defendants – including journalists and writers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak – on 2 October.

English PEN President Philippe Sands, the first foreigner to be allowed to visit the Altan brothers in prison earlier this year, said:

Truly shocking. The struggle for justice and freedom of expression for the Altan brothers continues, for as long as it takes.

Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International, said:

Yesterday’s decision to uphold life sentences against Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak – which defiantly refuses to implement rulings by Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights – is yet further evidence of the complete erosion of the rule of law in the country. The international community must act to increase pressure on the Turkish authorities to restore justice.

On 16 February 2018, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were convicted of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code and sentenced to aggravated life sentences, or life without parole. They stood accused of laying the groundwork for a coup attempt on 15 July 2016, in relation to their appearance on television together the night before the coup attempt, and several articles and columns they wrote. Three other co-defendants received similar sentences. Their case will now be referred to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Maureen Freely, Chair of Trustees at English PEN, commented:

Yet again we have confirmation that there is no justice in Turkey.   Erdogan can do whatever he pleases to those whom he has cast, on the flimsiest of evidence, and sometimes on no evidence whatsoever, as his enemies.

Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager at English PEN, said:

We were shocked and saddened by the court’s decision to uphold the aggravated life sentences against leading writer Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet and their co-defendants. We will continue to stand with them as the case proceeds to the Supreme Court and to call for an end to this grave injustice.

PEN representatives  – together with other free expression organisations – have observed the trial since the first hearing in July 2017 and have found the proceedings to be marred by profound violations of the defendants’ rights to a fair trial. Proceedings most notably ignored landmark rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, which urged the Turkish authorities to release Mehmet Altan without delay, and Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which twice ruled Mehmet Altan’s lengthy pre-trial detention to be in violation of his ‘right to personal liberty and security’. In June 2018, the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice ordered Mehmet Altan’s release pending the outcome of his appeal.

Aggravated life imprisonment is the most severe sentence under Turkish law. It consists of 30 years’ imprisonment, after which prisoners are eligible for parole on condition of good behaviour. Those convicted of aggravated life sentences also face harsher detention conditions, including solitary confinement for 23 hours per day, one phone call every 15 days to immediate family members, visitation by immediate family for one hour every 15 days and no permission to leave under any circumstances. According to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela rules), prolonged solitary confinement amounts to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and must not be imposed under any circumstances.

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