Turkish court acquits journalist Mehmet Altan, keeps 2 defendants in jail

A Turkish court on Friday ruled to acquit journalist Mehmet Altan of alleged links to the Gülen religious movement, which Ankara accuses of masterminding the failed 2016 coup attempt, Cumhuriyet reported on Friday.

The 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals also cleared Mehmet Altan's brother, journalist Ahmet Altan, as well as veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, two of six defendants in the same case, of charges related to violating the constitution, Cumhuriyet said.

The court rejected release requests from Ahmet Altan and Ilicak, ruling that both had aided the Gülen network "knowingly and willingly", the daily said.

Of the six defendants, Mehmet Altan was released in June by the decision of the appeals court when it first took up the case. The other defendants have remained imprisoned for well over two years now.

In February 2018, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced the Altans, Ilıcak and four of their co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as per Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK).

The indictment claimed that the defendants in the case “had prior knowledge of the coup attempt of July 2016,” which the government says was carried out by the religious movement led by Fethullah Gülen.

In October, the Istanbul appeals court overseeing the case upheld the trial court’s verdict. The defence lawyers then appealed against that court’s decision before the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals said on June 10 in its judicial opinion concerning the appeal that the Altan brothers and Ilıcak should have been charged with “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization,” instead of the much more serious charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”