Ilhan Tanir
Feb 16 2018

Life sentences for Turkish journalists is "criminalizing journalism" - the U.S.

"The United States is troubled by the life sentences handed down to 6 journalists and media employees in Turkey, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak" the State Department official told Ahval in an email statement.

A Turkish court gave life sentences to six people, including former newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and economist Mehmet Altan, and well-known journalist, Nazli Ilıcak, after convicting them of being the media wing of an Islamist sect the government says carried out the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

The U.S. official stated that these are "extraordinary sentences" and "appear to be another example of the Turkish authorities criminalizing journalism under the state of emergency in order to discourage the free expression of viewpoints critical of the government."

Along with the Altan brothers and Ilicak, the other three are Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül – who are all accused of having had foreknowledge of the coup attempt.

“The court decision condemning journalists to aggravated life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, according to the Guardian.

The State Department official continued in an email to Ahval that the U.S. "firmly believe[s] that a free press and the freedom of speech – even speech which some find controversial or uncomfortable – strengthen democracy and should be protected."

The U.S. urged Turkey "to end its protracted state of emergency, to release all those imprisoned arbitrarily, including these six journalists, to abide by its commitments to freedom of the press, due process and judicial independence, and to respect the fundamental freedoms of its people." in an email. The U.S. spokesperson Heather Nauert made similar calls on the Turkish Government often in recent past.

"The evidence presented in these cases is unbelievably shoddy, it’s paper-thin, there is really nothing there," said Freedom House's project director Nate Schenkkan on Friday in an interview with AhvalTV's ilhan Tanir. Schenkkan added, "we are seeing people given life sentences now because basically the government has decided now that it doesn't like them.”