Human Rights Watch sees no end to Turkish crackdown

Human Rights Watch sees no end to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, (AKP)'s crackdown against the independent media in Turkey. Since the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey’s  AKP government has become the world’s leader in jailing media workers and journalists. Currently, there more than 150 journalists are in Turkish jails, and more than 100 other media workers have arrest warrents outstanding.

Three Turkish journalists, Ahmet Altan, former editor of a now-closed opposition newspaper; columnist Mehmet Altan and T.V. commentator Nazli Ilicak were on Friday convicted of "trying to overthrow the constitutional order" and sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.

Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said “The case against the Altan brothers, Ilıcak, and the others have been politically motivated from the very start,” about Friday’s court decision.

The Altan brothers have been detained since September 10, 2016, over alleged links to the Fethullah Gülen movement which the Turkish government blames for the violent coup attempt. The Turkish government considers Fethullah Gülen, a U.S. based cleric, and his organisation terrorists. Ilıcak, a former T.V. commentator, has been behind bars since July  2016, on similar charges.

The trial of the jailed journalists, and four other defendants, which started on June 19, 2017, was marred by procedural irregularities that undermined the imprisoned journalists’ right to a defence. Their defence teams were ordered out of the court on two separate occasions, with hearings eventually being moved to a court inside the prison facility.

“The verdict sets a frightening precedent for the dozens of cases of other journalists, writers, and government critics currently on trial in Turkey,” says Williamson, commenting on another journalist, Die Welt's Deniz Yücel who was released on February 16th after spending more than a year behind bars without charge.

Williamson said, “Together with the verdict against the Altans and Ilıcak, it shows how far the Turkish government is willing to go to pervert justice to snuff out dissenting voices.”