The 26th High Criminal Court in Istanbul has handed the heaviest penalty possible to six defendants, including prominent journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and his younger brother Mehmet Altan, on charges of “trying to abolish the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey by resorting to the use of force and violence.”
In the final hearing that took place in the Silivri district of Istanbul on Feb. 16, Ilıcak, the Altan brothers, Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Yakup Şimşek were found guilty and given aggravated life sentences. The aggravated life sentence means they will be in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day, without parole, and with limited visits from outside.
Another suspect in the case, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, was acquitted.
The panel of judges decided against any good conduct abatement for any of those found guilty.
The case, referred to as being into the “media wing” of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), also involved fugitive suspects such as Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, which was shut down by a state of emergency decree in May 2016, as well as journalists Emre Uslu and Tuncay Opçin. Zaman was taken over by the government soon after the July 2016 coup attempt over its close links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Constitutional Court detected violations
Before the verdict was read by Judge Kemal Selçuk Yalçın, the suspects were given the floor to make their defenses, daily Hürriyet reported on Feb. 16.
“I was tried hundreds of times, I was tried during the time of military domination and the post-Feb. 28  period. This is the first time in my life that I have been face-to-face with a panel committing a crime against the constitution while on trial. It would be good for everyone to abandon these kinds of unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional acts,” said former daily Taraf editor-in-chief Ahmet Altan.
In a separate case, the Constitutional Court had in January ruled that the rights of Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Şahin Alpay had been violated. However, the lower court hearing the case refused to apply the ruling and subsequently overruled it, prompting deeper concerns about the rule of law in Turkey.
“If I were being tried by the Constitutional Court itself I would have been acquitted three times,” Mehmet Altan said in his defense on Feb. 16.
Nazlı Ilıcak also stressed that rulings made by the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court were in favor of their innocence.