Home / Articles / Altans verdict draws global outcry: No longer a state of law

16 February

Altans verdict draws global outcry: No longer a state of law

Altan brothers, Nazlı Ilıcak and 3 co-defendants handed down aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow constitutional order”


The aggravated life sentences handed down on February 16 by an Istanbul court to journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” has drawn strong reaction from NGOs and intergovernmental institutions advocating freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

In a joint statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, said the life sentences were “unprecedented.” “We call on Turkey to reverse today’s decision and release the journalists. Imprisonment for journalism not only silences the journalists, but it also deprives Turkish citizens of their right to access pluralistic views on issues that can directly affect their lives,” Kaye and Désir said.

Another joint statement issued by nine institutions, including PEN International, Article 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI) called on European states to increase political pressure on Turkey to release the journalists. Noting that Deniz Yücel, another imprisoned journalist, was released only a few hours before the verdict in the Altans’ trial following a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, the statement said, “Much more of this pressure is needed.”

Below is a summary of statements by some major figures and institutions concerning the Altans and Ilıcak verdict:

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media: “The court decision condemning journalists to aggravated life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey,” Kaye said. “The magnitude of these punishments, and the fact that the court failed to implement a related, binding ruling of the Constitutional Court, also raise fundamental questions about the ability of the judiciary to uphold the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression,” Désir said.

The full joint statement can be seen here.

David Kaye’s reaction on Twitter: This dreadful if expected sentence should be the lead story in papers around the world, a snapshot of Turkey’s repression of fundamental rights.

Harlem Désir’s reaction on Twitter: Appalled by today’s court decision to imprison journalists including Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, for life in Turkey! I call on Turkey to reverse today’s decision and release the journalists.

Reporters Without Borders President Pierre Haski: Verdict handed in Istanbul, comes as no surprise despite its horror: Life sentence against brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak accused of “subliminal messages.” Turkey is, unfortunately, no longer a state of law.

Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire: With the life sentence for the journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, the Turkish judiciary and the regime that controls the judges ridicule themselves in front of the world.

Amnesty International Europe Director Gauri van Gulik: This is a dark day for press freedom and for justice in Turkey and sets a chilling precedent for scores of other journalists facing trials on similar trumped-up terrorism charges. The cruelty of these politically motivated sentences – 30 years in jail with up to 23 hours per day in solitary confinement and no possibility of parole – is clearly intended to instil fear. Imposing such a sentence would not only flout freedom of expression, it would violate the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.

To read the full statement, click here.

Joint statement by nine institutions including PEN International, Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF): “These verdicts, the first against journalists accused of being connected to the July 2016 failed coup, set a devastating precedent for the many other journalists and writers in Turkey who are being tried on similarly spurious charges,” Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said.

“Turkey’s justice system is in crisis, and domestic remedies to human rights abuses are not working,” Thomas Hughes, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19 said.

“The Altans’ and Nazlı Ilıcak’s cases were given priority status at the European Court of Human Rights in April 2017. It is urgent that it now takes a decision on these cases. The signatories also call on European member states to increase political pressure on Turkey to release the Altans, Nazlı Ilıcak and other journalists detained on groundless charges,” read the statement, signed by PEN International, Article 19, Reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, International Publishers Association, Articolo 21, Italian Press Federation, and PEN Belgium/Flanders.

The full statement can be found here.

International Press Institute Deputy Director Scott Griffen (IPI): The fact that a court today sentenced Mehmet Altan to life in prison despite a Constitutional Court ruling ordering his release is the height of absurdity and shows that Turkey’s judicial system is unable to protect the rights of journalists. The defendants in this case, including the Altan brothers, did not receive a fair hearing and their convictions must be urgently appealed and overturned.

To read the full statement, click here.

Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz: 
“These appalling verdicts and prison sentences demonstrate that the justice system in Turkey is fully under political control. Lower courts are refusing to implement Constitutional Court decisions with which the government disagrees, and journalists are being sentenced to life in prison for what amounts to guilt by association. There is no justice where there are no independent courts.”

To read the full statement.

Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS): Life sentences to columnist Mehmet Altan, for whose release the Constitutional Court has ruled, and journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak cannot be justified through the law. We refuse to accept that courts are turned into tools of political vengeance.

Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey – Press Union (DİSK Basın-İş): The verdicts rendered by today’s judiciary will go down in history as a shame, just like the decisions taken by the judiciary under the [Gülen] congregation and under the September 12 [military coup regime]. All journalists should be released, the State of Emergency should be lifted and all the suffering caused by emergency decrees dissipated.

Society for Authors: An appalling day for journalism and freedom of speech. This sets a terrifying precedent.

PEN International Policy and Advocacy Manager Sarah Clarke: Today’s 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. Judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF): Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan’a full defence statements in English here! Their conviction shows that Turkey is not stopping its oppression of critical journalists and media freedom.

Rebecca Harms, Spokeswoman on foreign affairs in the Greens/EFA group at the European Parliament: The positive news of Deniz Yücel’s release, which makes me very happy for him and his wife, is overshadowed by the cruel verdict of life-long solitary confinement for six of his Turkish journalist colleagues, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, and Nazlı Ilıcak. These rulings are a terrible blow to all concerned journalists and all those who face similar unfounded charges and have been detained in Turkey for months and years now. I repeat my urgent call to the European Court of Human Rights to finally rule on these cases without any further embarrassing delay. The EU and its member states must try much harder to have an impact on Turkey. The EU needs to be ready to use its economic weight to push Turkey to return to the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Advocacy Director for Europe and Central Asia Philippe Dam: Life sentence for journalists Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak is a cruel attack against media freedom and a dark day for Turkey.

Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom Project Manager Hannah Machlin: Today’s appalling verdict represents a new low for press freedom in Turkey and sheds light on how the courts might approach other cases concerning the right to freedom of expression. Today we stand in solidarity with all imprisoned journalists and continue to call on the government to drop all charges.

The full statement can be found here.

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) President Philippe Leruth:These scandalous condemnations represent an escalation in the repression of press freedom in Turkey. Criminalization of journalistic work is a common way for dictatorial powers to repress freedom of expression. But Turkey belongs to the democratic States which are part of the Council of Europe, and all democratic countries should make very clear to the Turkish authorities that they went a step too far in this case. Press freedom is the thermometer of democracy and breaking it won’t help the Turkish democracy to recover.

To read the full statement, click here.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson: “The case against the Altan brothers, Ilıcak, and the others has been politically motivated from the very start. The verdict sets a frightening precedent for the dozens of cases of other journalists, writers, and government critics currently on trial in Turkey. (…) Deniz Yücel’s overdue release does not in any way obscure the farcical situation that he is facing charges at all,” Williamson said. “Together with the verdict against the Altans and Ilıcak, it shows how far the Turkish government is willing to go to pervert justice to snuff out dissenting voices.”

To read the full statement click here. 

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova: "We are appalled by the sentencing to life in prison today of Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, and Fevzi Yazıcı, and we call for their immediate and unconditional release. Separately, we call on Turkish authorities to scrap all charges against Deniz Yücel, who spent an entire year in prison without being charged, and to lift any conditions on his freedom. It is high time for Turkey to reverse its unprecedented crackdown on the press."
To read the full statement:

International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX): “Friday's life sentences handed to Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak in Turkey for their writing is an appalling miscarriage of justice, felt across the IFEX network.”

South East European Network for Professionalisation of Media (SEENPM): “This case is the first conviction of journalists in trials related to the failed coup and sets a very bad precedent for all the other journalists charged with similar groundless charges.”
To read the full statement:

An anonymous U.S. State Department Official cited by Courthouse News Service: “These extraordinary sentences appear to be another example of the Turkish authorities criminalizing journalism under the state of emergency in order to discourage the free expression of viewpoints critical of the government,” the official said. “We firmly believe that a free press and the freedom of speech – even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable – strengthen democracy and should be protected. We urge Turkey to end its protracted state of emergency, to release all those imprisoned arbitrarily, including these six journalists, to abide by its commitments to freedom of the press, due process and judicial independence, and to respect the fundamental freedoms of its people.”

To read the full article:

Italian journalist and “Free Turkey Media” campaigner Antonella Napoli: “Life sentence for all. Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak sentenced to life in prison. State of law in Turkey is dead.”

The Guardian: “The first conviction of media figures in relation to the failed putsch constitutes a major defeat for press freedom in the Nato member state, which has cracked down on dissent in the aftermath of the coup”
To read the full article:

CNN: Journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak received life sentences on the charge of being informed about the coup attempt before it happened. Their sentence officially means they must serve 40 years.
To read the full article:

Der Spiegel: “Deniz Yücel is free - but six other journalists have been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Turkish court.”
To read the full article (German):

Corriere Della Sera Editor-in-Chief Luciano Fontana: “Turkey should restore the state of law.”

Corriere Della Sera: “Europe had not had time to rejoice at the news of the release on parole of Die Welt's correspondent, the Turkish-German Deniz Yücel, when an expected but feared verdict came from Ankara: the Turkish writer Ahmet Altan, 67 years old, his brother Mehmet, economist and journalist, 65, veteran Turkish journalist Nazli Ilıcak, 74, were sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to "subvert constitutional order" for their alleged support to the network of Fethullah Gulen, considered responsible for the coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The international mobilization launched in recent months for the release of Free Turkey Media, which includes among others Reporters Without Borders, the Italians of Articolo 21 and the association of the Cento Autori, has been worthless. The sentence of the Constitutional Court that had ordered the release of the defendants because their human rights had been violated has done nothing.”

To read the full article (Italian)

El País: Die Welt reporter. Deniz Yücel left the prison on Friday afternoon. (…) However, the other side of the coin was set by the Istanbul court, which decided to sentence six journalists in the country to life imprisonment.

To read the full article (Spanish):

New York Times: Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who had little to show after his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday, expressed "serious concerns" at the continued detention of American citizens under the crackdown. Progress fell into a category of one step forward and two back. German officials, for instance, hailed a decision by a Turkish court on Friday to release a Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yücel, in a case that has been a major irritant in relations. But even as he was freed, Mr. Yücel, who works for the national daily Die Welt, was indicted on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred, which risk up to 18 years in prison. At the same time, another court condemned six Turkish journalists to life in prison for undermining the constitutional order.
The case of two of the journalists condemned to life imprisonment Friday - a well-known author and journalist, Ahmet Altan; and his brother, a columnist, Mehmet Altan - showed the arbitrary nature of Turkey's judicial system that has become the norm in recent months.
To read the full article.


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