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18 June

Altans and Ilıcak to present their defences in ‘’coup’’ case

Trial of imprisoned journalists accused of “participating in coup’’ begins on Monday

Renowned journalists and writers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, imprisoned for months, will present their defences to an Istanbul court on Monday at the first hearing of their trial.
 
The hearing, which will be held at Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, will begin at 10:00 in the morning.
 
Several international rights groups, including Amnesty International, Article 19, PEN International, Index on Censorship, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Senior Lawyers Project will send representatives to monitor the trial.
 
In addition to Altan brothers and Ilıcak, 14 other people including former editors of the shuttered Zaman and English-language Today’s Zaman dailies are defendants in the case.
 
First “coup” case against journalists
 
The case is the first trial of journalists accused of participating in the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
 
The first hearing of another coup trial against journalists, in which 30 people including former Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Mümtazer Türköne and Ali Bulaç are accused of participating in the coup attempt will be held in September. 13 other journalists who were released in late March in a terrorism case but were immediately rearrested on coup charges – including columnists Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy – are also awaiting trial on the same coup charges but no date has been set yet for the first hearing.
 
Ilıcak, a seasoned political commentator aged 73, and Altan brothers are formally accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”, “attempting to overthrow the Parliament” and “attempting to overthrow the government,” charges carrying three aggravated life sentences. They also face an additional prison term of 15 years on the charge of “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member.”
 
Ahmet Altan is accused on the basis of some reports published in the shuttered Taraf daily when he was its editor-in-chief, three columns, comments made during a television program on the night of July 14, 2016, phone communication records and witness statements. Mehmet Altan is accused based on his two columns, the same television program that he attended together with Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, phone communication records, witness statements and six one-dollar bills found in his home.
 
Another 13 defendants are accused, in addition to coup charges, of “being a terrorist group leader” or “being a terrorist group member.” Defendant Tibet Murat Sanlıman, on the other hand, is charged with “willingly and knowingly aiding a terrorist organization.”
 
In addition to Altan brothers and Ilıcak, former Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı,  Emrullah Uslu, Tuncay Opçin, former Zaman columnist Abdülkerim Balcı, Şemseddin Efe, Osman Özsoy, Faruk Kardıç, Fevzi Yazıcı, former Zaman executive Mehmet Kamış, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, Yakup Şimşek, former Today’s Zaman editor-in-chief Bülent Keneş, Ali Çolak and Tibet Murat Sanlıman are indicted in the case.
 
Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Yakup Şimşek, as well as the Altans and Ilıcak, are imprisoned while Tibet Murat Sanlıman is free awaiting conclusion of the trial. The remaining 10 defendants are sought for arrest.
 
Rights groups: Let them go free
 
In a joint press release on June 16, Article 19, Index on Censorship and PEN International said they believed the trial to be “politically motivated” and called on the authorities “to drop all charges against the accused unless they can provide concrete evidence of commission of internationally recognisable criminal offences and to immediately and unconditionally release those held in pre-trial detention.”
 
Article 19 has also prepared an expert opinion examining the charges against the Altan brothers, which will be submitted to the court at the hearing. The opinion argues that the charges leveled against the Altans amount to unlawful restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
 

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