Ahmet Altan: “The Rule of Law in Turkey is Dead”

On Friday 16 February, the maximum penalty requested by the Public Prosecutor of the 26th Istanbul Criminal Court was inflicted on the world-renowned intellectuals Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and four other writers and journalists. It is the aggravated life sentence.

They were convicted of “subversion of the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey, belonging to a terrorist organization and aiding the failed coup of July 15, 2016”, which was allegedly orchestrated by the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania, who is accused of infiltrating the state structures through his Islamic network.

This is the first judgment against accused intellectuals suspected of having played a role in the attempted coup of 2016. The brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and the journalist Nazlı Ilıcak were arrested in the first wave of repression after the coup, which took place just a few days after 15 July 2016.

The people who have been convicted are Ahmet Altan, a 67-year-old writer, whose books have been translated into 25 languages; his brother Mehmet, economist and journalist, aged 65; journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, aged 74, and journalists Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Yakup Şimşek.

They will have to serve the life sentence in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and with very limited visits from outside. They will have only ten minutes of telephone conversation every two weeks and the possibility of receiving visits from relatives once every 15 days. For health reasons, they may be transferred to the prison’s hospital wards or to the detention wards of state hospitals.

This regime will enter into force when the ruling has become final and therefore when the appeal sentence will be issued. Only Tibet Sanliman, another defendant in the same trial, was acquitted.

The prosecution claims that the intellectuals were part of the so-called “media wing” of the Islamic community network of Fethullah Gülen, labeled by the Turkish government as “Terrorist organization of Fethullah Gülen followers (FETÖ)”. Ekrem Dümanlı, a journalist who fled the country, was the former editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, which had been put under the administration of an external commissioner first and then closed by decree in May 2016; Emre Uslu and Tuncay Opçin, also journalists, would be part of this wing.

The defendants participated in the hearings of their trial by video-conference “Segbis” from their prison in Silivri, the notorious journalist-prison so called because of the remarkable number of journalists restricted within the facility since July 2016. The evidence against them consist of some articles published in some opposition newspapers, some witnesses and some telephone records(HTS).

Proof of the irmembership to FETÖ, according to the prosecution, is a one-dollar note found in the Ahmet and Mehmet Altan’s house. Investigators believe that that banknote allows Fethullah Gülen followers to recognize each other.

The accusation against the brothers Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak is sending “subliminal messages” during a tv programme of July 14, 2016, the day before the failed coup. They are essentially accused of having sent subliminal messages to those tasked with staging the coup.

In his last deposition before the 26th Criminal Court in Istanbul, Mehmet Altan told his judges: “Today, in Turkey, no institution works properly, only gravediggers do. Nobody should remain in power by exerting such violence. Political power no longer fears the generals, today it fears the writers!”

On 11 January two criminal courts of the Court of Istanbul, supported by the Turkish government, annulled the decision by the Constitutional Court which ruled the release of two intellectuals, Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay. It was the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey that a ruling by the Constitutional Court was not respected.

“We are faced with a worrying context, where all elementary criteria of the rule of law are missing. Arbitrariness is prevailing. Legal certainty is lacking”, said Cumhuriyet Özgür Mumcu, son of Uğur Muncu, writer and investigative journalist, prestigious left-wing intellectual, murdered on January 24, 1993 in Ankara while he was starting the engine of his car.

That sentence of the Constitutional Court, maximum guarantor of the institutions and the magistrature, despite meeting the standars set by the European Court of Human Rights on the role of journalism and on freedom of the press in a democratic society, was not enforced.

“Your Honor, this miserable surrogate of indictment against me shows not only lack of intelligence. It also has no respect for the law, it is will break under the weight of this life-sentence, especially in light of the aggravating circumstances requested by the prosecutor. This sentence does not even deserve a serious defense. The Rule of Law in Turkey is dead!”

These where the last words spoken by Ahmet Altan in his defence.

Mariano Giustino

Translation: Ilaria Saltarelli

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