Judge tells prominent journalist to stop Erdoğan criticism at coup trial

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A judge hearing the trial of seven journalists including Nazlı Ilıcak and the Altan brothers, who are being tried on coup charges, has intervened in the defense statements of the journalists, asking one of them to stop criticizing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Monday resumed the journalists’ trial, which will last until Feb.16, when the court is expected to conclude proceedings.

In addition to Ilıcak, journalists and writers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan; two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Zaman brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek and art director Fevzi Yazıcı; former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül; and advertising company manager Tibet Murat Sanlıman are suspects in the trial. Sanlıman was earlier released on his own recognizance.

During the hearing at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Tuesday, which was held in the Silivri Prison Complex in İstanbul, unlike the other hearings that took place at the Çağlayan Courthouse, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak presented their final defense statements.

In his defense titled “Ahmaklığın adaleti” (Justice of Foolishness), Ahmet Altan, who is also a prominent novelist, denied coup charges and said he was jailed not based on law but as a result of the efforts of the “one-man regime” in Turkey.

When Ahmet Altan directed criticism at President Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the presiding judge intervened and said, “This is not the appropriate venue where the esteemed president will be criticized.” The judge also threatened to turn off Altan’s microphone, saying that he was going outside the limits of defense.

Turkey’s judiciary is being criticized for acting on orders from Erdoğan and not basing their rulings on the law. Judges in Turkey who make decisions that anger Erdoğan are either replaced or jailed.

In his defense, Altan accused the AKP government of trying to remain in power by reigniting nationalism, saying the party’s votes are decreasing despite this and that the party’s policies have begun to be questioned by its own voters. The journalist said the AKP government will very soon leave power and that the end of a bad play is coming.

“Whichever tyrant has punished its critics with unjust practices, it has faced the same punishments. He who sent people to guillotine went to the guillotine himself; he who sent people into exile was sent into exile. The punishments imposed by the tyrants were also marked as destinations on their own maps of fate. Now, you want to kill me in prison. After mentioning all these facts, I am now telling you: I am ready to die in prison. And I am asking to you: What about you? Are you ready to die in prison, too? Because the punishment you will issue will be recorded on your map of destiny as it is,” Altan told the court in his defense.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Ilıcak are among 17 defendants accused of membership in the alleged “media arm” of the Gülen movement, which is blamed by the Turkish government for a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Both Mehmet Altan and Ahmet Altan, who were detained on Sept. 10, 2016, were accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding the failed coup on a TV show a day before the putsch.

The Altan brothers are prominent journalists who have been unequivocally critical of the regime of President Erdoğan.

In his defense, Mehmet Altan brought to mind a recent ruling by Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which in its review of the individual applications by him and another jailed journalist, Şahin Alpay, held that both journalists’ “rights to personal liberty and security” enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution, and their “rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” protected under Articles 26 and 27, have been violated.

However, the İstanbul 13th and 26th High Criminal Courts, where Alpay and Altan are standing trial, respectively, refused to enforce the Constitutional Court’s decision on the grounds that its reasoned judgments had not been communicated. The next day the 13th High Criminal Court announced that it would not enforce the ruling, alleging that the Constitutional Court had “usurped authority.”

When Mehmet Altan talked about the top court’s ruling, the presiding judge of the trial intervened and said if Altan did not continue his defense of the accusations against him, he would turn off his microphone.

“My defense statements are purposefully ignored. Why? Because if my defenses are taken into consideration, it will be impossible to keep me in prison without any evidence. The worst thing about my victimization is to respond to baseless, meaningless claims that do not constitute a crime, having to make a defense against them,” said Mehmet Altan.

Journalist Ilıcak also denied the coup charges in her defense and said although she was going to the Greek islands on July 21, 2016 for vacation, she cancelled her tickets and hotel reservations after the coup attempt.

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