We salute Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak for their courage in the face of injustice. We shall not rest until justice prevails – Maureen Freely, Chair, English PEN
English PEN is appalled by the latest verdicts in Turkey which have seen leading writer Ahmet Altan, his brother, academic Mehmet Altan, and fellow journalist Nazlı Ilıcak all sentenced to life in prison.
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.
Our colleagues at PEN International and partners on the Free Turkey Media Campaign, ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have been observing the trial since the first hearing in July 2017 and have found the proceedings to be in violation of the defendants’ rights to a fair trial. The final week-long hearing, which began in Caglayan Court in central Istanbul on 12 February, was unfortunately no exception.
On the first day of proceedings, Mehmet Altan’s lawyer was ejected for insisting that the landmark Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) decision on his client’s case, ruling that his rights to ‘personal liberty and security’ and to ‘freedom of expression and the press’ had been violated, be included in the court’s record. The ongoing refusal to implement this decision is in violation of Article 315 of the Turkish Constitution.
Shortly afterwards, the judge ruled that the hearing would be moved to Silivri Prison Court, seemingly in an attempt to limit international observation and media coverage. As a result, PEN International’s Policy and Advocacy Manager Sarah Clarke was one of just two international observers in attendance at the high security prison court on 13 February when the Altans and Ilıcak gave their closing defence statements. No diplomats were present, leading PEN and others to issue an urgent call to the international community to demonstrate their commitment to ‘advocating for human rights’ by attending the closing hearing.
Following the announcement of the verdicts on 16 February, Clarke commented:
This sets a devastating precedent for scores of other journalists charged with similarly groundless charges.
[The] verdict and sentences of life without parole for Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak mark an apex of the disintegration of the rule of law in Turkey. [The] judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.
She went on to detail what the sentence could mean if not overturned:
An aggravated life sentence is Turkey’s replacement for the death sentence. It means 30 years of confinement. One visit from close family every two weeks. One call every ten days. This is […] barbaric punishment for […] writing.
The verdict has been widely condemned by human rights groups and international journalists, as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir.
Meanwhile, European member states are also being urged to increase political pressure on Turkey to release the Altans, Nazlı Ilıcak and the more than 100 other journalists currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression. The UK, reportedly ‘the single biggest obstacle to putting pressure on Turkey’, undoubtedly needs to do more.
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