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Turkey: Diplomats must monitor final hearing of journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak

Update: 16 February 2018 - Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were today convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code and sentenced to aggravated life sentences, or life without parole.

Ahmet Altan during a visit to Harvard University under the Kokkalis Program, 25 January 2012
Ahmet Altan during a visit to Harvard University under the Kokkalis Program, 25 January 2012

Kokkalis Program via Flickr, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 14 February 2018.

PEN International, ARTICLE 19 and RSF today urged the international community in Turkey to monitor the closing hearing in the trial against journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak. A verdict is expected this Friday. It will be the first ruling in a case against journalists accused of being connected to the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. If convicted all three face "aggravated" life sentences on charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order" under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code.

"A guilty verdict in this case will set an extremely negative precedent for the many cases where journalists and writers are being tried on groundless charges related to the coup attempt," said Sarah Clarke who observed the hearings for PEN International at Silivri prison. "It is essential that the international community demonstrate their commitment to advocating for human rights and the rule of law and show their solidarity with the journalists in this wholly political trial and bear witness to these proceedings," she added.

ARTICLE 19, PEN International and RSF who have observed the trial since the first hearing in July 2017 have found the proceedings to be marred from the outset by profound violations of the defendants' rights to a fair trial.

On the first day of the final hearing on 12 February, the judge abruptly moved the proceedings from Caglayan Court in central Istanbul to Silivri Prison Court, a decision believed to be motivated by a desire to curb monitoring and reporting on the hearing.

Immediately prior to this, the judge ejected Mehmet Altan's lawyer for insisting on the inclusion of a landmark – and so far ignored - Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) decision on his client's case in the court's record.

The TCC decision of 11 January found that the pre-trial detention of Mehmet Altan for over a year had led to violations of his "right to personal liberty and security" protected under Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and "freedom of expression and the press" protected under Articles 26 and 28, establishing the way for his immediate release. In violation of Article 315 of the Turkish Constitution, the lower court refused to implement this binding decision of the Constitutional Court and Mehmet Altan has remained in prison.

On 13 February Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak gave their closing defence statements in the high security prison court. In attendance were some thirty security forces, a handful of journalists and just two international observers from PEN International and ARTICLE 19. No diplomats attended the hearings on 13 or 14 February.

"The case of Mehmet Altan is now central to the unfolding constitutional crisis in Turkey," said Georgia Nash, who is monitoring the trial on behalf of ARTICLE 19. "In the absence of the implementation of the Altan decision, we fear the worst from Friday's verdict."

"EU diplomats have a specific responsibility to attend such tragically emblematic trials if they mean to be serious about the EU Guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders. Supporting press freedom in Turkey today means being present in courtrooms, not least in this one," said RSF deputy general director Antoine Bernard.

ARTICLE 19, PEN International and RSF reiterate their call for the immediate and release of the detained, and for all charges against them to be dropped. We call upon representatives of the international community to attend Friday's trial.

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