Turkish Court Rejects Releasing Journalists In Media Trial

An Istanbul court refused to release 17 journalists, including novelist Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak, despite demands of lawyers for the release of defendants tried in a major media trial over charges attempting to topple the government, helping coup plotters and “terrorist organization membership.”

After a week of defenses by the prominent and veteran journalists, the court delivered the decision on Friday, setting Sept. 19 as next hearing date, while Turkey’s judicial season enters a summer recess.

Altan brothers, Nazli Ilicak, former Zaman daily design editor Fevzi Yazici, Zaman advertisement director Yakup Simsek presented their defenses during the week.

Prominent novelist Ahmet Altan has offered the most stunning defense yet to date, disproves every charge in the indictment with a powerful argument. His pages-long defense read via video conference from prison went viral on social media, and widely shared on the internet as a textbook case of how a defense could be carried out by a defendant.

As Milena Buyum of Amnesty International said in her reaction to the decision at the courtroom, Ahmet Altan shredded the indictment into to pieces by parsing contradictions through point-by-point examination of the claims laid by the prosecutor.

Speaking after defendants and their lawyers, Prosecutor Can Tuncay demanded from the court continuation of pre-trial detention of the journalists, using only one sentence.

He avoided engagement in a legal argument after Ahmet Altan’s deconstruction of the indictment as a “judicial porn” which he said does not deserve a serious defense.

Veysel Ok, a lawyer representing Ahmet Altan, denied charges as ludicrous and said his client is being tried over his independent and critical thoughts. He underlined that freedom of expression is guaranteed by Turkish constitutional law, and his comments, however critical they are, on Turkey’s political affairs do not constitute a crime according to the law.

Article 19, an international rights group that monitors freedom of expression across the world, presented an expert opinion on the case of the Altan brothers. Article 19 said it “considers that the charges form part of a politically-motivated campaign of harassment against journalists and other dissenting voices in Turkey following the failed coup against President Erdogan in July 2016.”

It points to a major problem in the indictment. So far, prosecutors only presented television comments, news articles and columns as “evidence” to show that they amount to use of force to topple a government.

“There is no possible causal link between the defendants’ news articles and the failed coup of July 2016,” Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer for ARTICLE 19, said regarding the trial. “That the defendants may be sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment merely for publishing columns commenting on the political situation in Turkey is grossly disproportionate and would amount to a grave miscarriage of justice.”

Article 19 calls on the authorities to drop all charges against the accused in the absence of evidence of “involvement in an internationally recognized crime and to immediately and unconditionally release those held in pre-trial detention.”

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