After the coup attempt of July 15, numerous operations were launched against the media, and one such operation targeted Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak.
Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan were detained on July 10, 2016. The accusation was to pass “subliminal messages” about the coup attempt on a television show on the evening of July 14, the day before the coup attempt on July 15th. Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan had discussed the latest news together with Nazlı Ilıcak in a program on Can Erzincan TV. As such, the concept of “subliminal message”, which would later be described as “knowing the coup beforehand” went down in Turkish legal and political history.
Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak stood trial along with 17 other people. Nine of them were journalists. However, many of the names included in the investigation and trial, such as the Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı of the shuttered Zaman newspaper, were never tried since they had gone abroad.
In the indictment, the charges against them was not limited to “giving subliminal messages about the coup attempt”. Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, as well as Abdülkerim Balcı, Ali Çolak, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış and Şemsettin Efe were charged of numerous offenses. It was claimed that the journalists “attempted to overthrow the Parliament and Government or to prevent them from performing their duties”, “attempted to overthrow the constitutional order”, and the prosecutor requested three counts of aggravated life sentence for each of them. The prosecutor requested an additional 7 and a half to 15 years of imprisonment for the journalists for “committing crimes on behalf of an armed terrorist organization, without being a member.”
The trial began with the first hearing on July 19, 2016.
At the second hearing in September 2016, Ahmet Altan stated that he would waive his right to appeal even if a single piece of evidence was to be submitted against him.
At the fourth hearing of the case on December 11, 2016, the prosecutor’s office declared its opinion as to the accusations, where it had changed the accusations against the journalists. The journalists were now only charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”. As such, the imprisonment requested for the journalists was reduced from three counts of aggravated life sentence to “aggravated life sentence”. On the other hand, the prosecution also retracted the charge that Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were “members of an armed terrorist organization.”
At the end of the trial which started on February 12, 2018 and lasted for 5 days, the verdict about the journalists was announced. Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were sentenced to aggravated life sentences. Journalists were charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”. The court ordered that the files of the defendants abroad be separated from the main case.
The Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights Proceedings
Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan applied to the Constitutional Court on November 8, 2016. When this effort at first yielded no result, they also applied to the European Court of Human Rights. European Court of Human Rights asked the defense of the government of Turkey about the applications.
On January 11, 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mehmet Altan’s rights had been violated. However, the Istanbul 26. High Criminal Court did not comply with the Constitutional Court’s decision and did not order the release of Mehmet Altan. This was probably a first in Turkish judicial history.
The court resisted the verdict of the Constitutional Court, and sentenced Mehmet Altan to aggravated lifelong imprisonment. Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.
Istanbul 26. High Criminal Court’s resistance against the Constitutional Court’s verdict of rights violation and release of the defendant continued for a long time. Mehmet Altan could be released only with a ruling of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, 2. Criminal Chamber which was in charge of the appeal proceedings, before the said proceedings began.
Nazlı Ilıcak also filed an individual application with the Constitutional Court in the process. However, her application about the violation of her rights was rejected.
The ECHR later ruled that the rights of both Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan had been violated.
The Appeal Proceedings
The verdict was taken to the court of appeal. Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, 2. Criminal Chamber, which was in charge of the appeal proceedings, ruled that Mehmet Altan be released before the trial began. In this verdict, the court made reference to the Constitutional Court’s decision which the local court had not applied.
The first hearing of the appeal proceedings began on September 21, 2018. At the second hearing on October 2, 2018, the court of appeal upheld the aggravated life sentence handed down by the local court.
Court of Cassation Proceedings
The file was taken to the Court of Cassation for appeal.
On January 8, 2019, Court of Cassation Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sent its notification to the 16. Criminal Chamber of Court of Cassation. The Chief Public Prosecutor requested that the aggravated life sentences for Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak be overturned. According to the notification, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak had to stand trial not for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”, but for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being a part of the hierarchical structure within the organization”. This represented a possible reduction of the prison sentences handed down to Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. However, the local court had retracted the accusation that the journalists were “members of an armed terrorist organization”.
Court of Cassation’s 16. Criminal Chamber overturned the verdict about Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. Court of Cassation ruled that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should be tried for not “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”, but for “aiding the armed terrorist organization FETÖ / PDY without being part of its hierarchical structure”, in accordance with the request of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The chamber ruled for the acquittal of Mehmet Altan.
With this verdict of the Court of Cassation, the retrial process began. The file was referred back to the Istanbul 26. High Criminal Court, which had functioned as the first-instance court. This is the very court which had charged the journalists with 3 counts of aggravated life sentence and up to 15 years in prison, and had resisted the Constitutional Court’s verdict of release for Mehmet Altan.
Ahmet Altan has been prisoned pending trial since September 23, 2016 and Nazlı Ilıcak since July 29, 2016.
Following the decision of the Court of Cassation to overturn the verdict, the retrial began on October 8, 2019. At the hearing, Mehmet Altan’s ban on leaving the country was lifted. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak’s requests for release were rejected.
File, was sent back to Istanbul 26th Assize Court where the first instance trial was held. It was eye-catching that the court was the same court where journalists were tried with 3 times aggravated life sentences and 15 years of imprisonment and that resisted the Constitutional Court’s violation decision in favour of Mehmet Altan
Istanbul Public Chief Prosecutor, concluded his opinion as to the accusations at October 31st, 2019, before the 2nd hearing of the retrial at November 4th, 2019.
The opinion accused Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak of “knowingly an willingly aiding an organisation without takin part in the hierarchical structure”. From 5 years to 10 years of imprisonment requested for Altan and Ilıcak. The prosecutor requested that the punishment was considered further from the “lower limit”. Opinion also requested Mehmet Altan’s acquittal.
Decisive hearing of the case was held at November 4th, 2019. At the end of the hearing the court board sentenced Ahmet Altan to 7 years of imprisonment for the crime of “knowingly and willingly aiding an organisation without being a member”. The court board increased the sentence by half, reaching a total of 10 years 6 months and considered the time he had already served and ruled for Altan’s release.
The court board sentenced Nazlı Ilıcak to 7 years of imprisonment for the crime of “knowingly and willingly aiding an organisation without being a member”. The court board first increased the sentence by half, and ruled for good conduct abetment and reduced the sentence by 1/6, reaching a total of 8 years 9 months and ruled for her release. The court also imposed a ban on leaving the country for Altan and Ilıcak.
The court acquitted Mehmet Altan on the grounds of not having sufficient solid evidence for punishment and lifted his judicial control measures.
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