German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel walks after he was released from government detention on February 16, 2018. (Reuters/Huseyin Aldemir)

Turkey sentences 4 journalists to life in prison, releases and indicts another

February 16, 2018 4:04 PM ET

Istanbul, February 16, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a Turkish court's decision to sentence four journalists to life in prison without parole, and called on Turkish authorities to release them without delay. In a separate case, Turkey must scrap charges against another journalist who was today released from custody but simultaneously indicted for terrorism propaganda, CPJ said.

A Turkish court today handed life sentences to Ahmet Altan, an internationally recognized novelist and former chief editor for the shuttered daily Taraf; Mehmet Altan, an academic, columnist, and TV host, most recently with shuttered outlets Can Erzincan TV and the daily Özgür Düşünce; Nazlı Ilıcak, a veteran journalist, columnist, and TV host, most recently with shuttered outlets Can Erzincan TV and the daily Özgür Düşünce; and Fevzi Yazıcı, former layout editor for the shuttered daily Zaman. The four, who have been jailed since 2016, were found guilty of attempting to topple Turkey's constitutional order in the failed July 2016 coup attempt through their journalistic activities, according to news reports.

The journalists all denied the charges in court, according to media reports.

In a separate case, Turkish authorities today released from jail Deniz Yücel, Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, who had been imprisoned for a year pending investigation, according to Reuters. A Turkish court today also indicted Yücel on charges of "propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization" and "provoking the people to hatred and animosity," according to news reports. The maximum penalty for the two charges is 18 years.

Yücel has denied guilt, calling his imprisonment an "injustice" in an interview with the daily Evrensel.

"We are appalled by the sentencing to life in prison today of Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, and Fevzi Yazıcı, and we call for their immediate and unconditional release," CPJ Europe and Central Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. "Separately, we call on Turkish authorities to scrap all charges against Deniz Yücel, who spent an entire year in prison without being charged, and to lift any conditions on his freedom. It is high time for Turkey to reverse its unprecedented crackdown on the press."

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment, which was seen by CPJ, that Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Ilıcak, and Yazıcı transmitted subliminal messages during debates on television, through TV ads, and through their articles, which signaled the July 2016 coup attempt.

Despite a the Turkish top court's decision in Mehment Altan's case that stated his arrest had been illegal and ordered he be tried without arrest, lower courts have ignored the decision, CPJ has documented.

Turkey is the world's worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research.

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