No release for Turkey’s jailed Altan brothers

The third hearing in a trial of 17 suspects arrested in the aftermath of last year’s July coup attempt took place at an eventful court hearing on Monday. The defendants include the journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, and the brothers Ahmet Altan, a writer, and Mehmet Altan, an academic.

The defendants face terrorism charges related to the July, 2016 failed coup.

The Altan brothers, participating via a video link from prison, observed an extraordinary hearing in which their four defence lawyers were removed from the courtroom. Foreign observers from seven European countries, including France and Switzerland, were also present.

The court ruled against releasing the suspects on bail during a hearing that was called to a halt four times in the space of an hour. The interruptions came as defence lawyers repeatedly sought the opportunity to interject, eliciting a harsh reaction from the presiding judge.

First Ergin Cinmen, a lawyer representing the Altan brothers, asked to speak before the prosecutor made his statement. But the judge refused Cinmen this request, and instead had him ejected from the courtroom for speaking without permission.

After the resulting recess, another of the Altans’ lawyers, Figen Çalıkuşu, made a similar request to the judge, who also had her removed from the court. This resulted in a second break, after which the same performance was repeated two more times by the lawyers Ferat Çağıl and Melike Polat.

ARTICLE 19, PEN International, PEN Norway and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned dismissal of entire defense team as "clear violation of fair trial rights" and called for their immediate release, and for all charges to be dropped

Talking to the press outside the courtroom, Cinmen said the judge’s stance towards his team was intolerant of the defendants’ right to a defence. “This is the first time in 40 years as defence counsel that I have been expelled from court for trying to carry out my duty as a lawyer to defend my client,” said Cinmen, the head of the Altans’ defence team.

After the recess, the prosecutor informed the court of his view on the preceding judgment, and requested extra time for consideration of the case, citing his recent appointment to the trial and unfamiliarity with the charge sheet. The judges and prosecution working on the case had already been changed a number of times, a fact that Ilıcak remarked on as extraordinary.

Finally, the prosecutor requested that the Altan brothers and Ilıcak, who have been held for more than 400 days so far, should remain in custody.


Nazlı Ilıcak made the following statement at the hearing:

“The high court’s last decision was very important, but we did not have enough of a chance to speak and make our case on the matter. Only our lawyers are being restricted, and this has had a very harmful effect on the preparation of our defence. I would like to draw attention to the decisions of the High Court 16th Criminal Department. This relates directly to my case and the accusations against me.

“The ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) is investigating the rulings in my own case and those of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, and I would like to mention this. May nobody find themselves wrongfully accused. I have been against coups all my life. You can convince nobody that Nazlı Ilıcak is a coup plotter.

“The European Court of Human Rights comment makes it clear that our case will be ruled a human rights violation. I don’t want Turkey to end up in this situation again. The spirit behind the High Court’s judgment is the same spirit found in fascist Italy or on Yassıada (the Mamara Sea island where Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was tried and sentenced to death after the 1960 coup).

“The High Court has applied charges of working on behalf (of a terrorist organisation) to our case. But writing articles, conducting interviews, and having discussions are not crimes. According to the High Court itself, to be found guilty of committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organisation, you must act on the orders of one.

“Unable to topple the secular system, the FETÖ (Fethullah Gülen’s] terrorist organisation set out to create an Islamic republic by staging a coup. It is impossible that I could ever aim for such a thing. It is impossible to immediately identify FETÖ when you see it, just as it is to identify the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) or the DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Communist Party-Front). The High Court must not hold people guilty for this lack of knowledge.

Mehmet Altan’s statement:

“This book (The Economics of Coups] is unique in its field. I wrote it in order to help prevent coups, by speaking with politicians of that period. The Turkish Parliament is a plaintiff in this case. (Previously), I had been called to speak at that parliament’s Coup Research Commission.

“There is an extraordinary lack of lawfulness in the way the prosecutor proceeds with this case, which is a propaganda operation, and I cannot understand the hostility. Has the new prosecutor read the indictment? If not, how can he request that the defendants remain in custody? Is there such a thing as a law against subliminal messages?

“If it were not for the loss in Turkey of the rule of law, this indictment would be thrown out for lack of evidence … I have been living for 419 days in detention on the basis of a stack of papers and no concrete evidence. For goodness sake, show some evidence. There are also people in the same situation as us who have been released on bail. So what is with this double standard?

“The UN calls the case a “theatre”. Why are those like us released while we stay behind bars? Why are our lawyers restricted? I await your decision on the recusal, but since I don’t have any lawyers here, I am requesting my own release.”

Ahmet Altan’s statement:

“The UN called this trial a “theatre” in the ECHR report. A little while ago, while listening to the prosecutor reciting his lines, I understood that I am an actor in this theatre. How can a prosecutor who doesn’t know the dossier be reciting a speech on it? Such a thing is not law, not a court. That’s all I have to say.”