Mehmet Altan, a columnist, professor of economics, and public figure, was detained by police on September 10, 2016, alongside his brother Ahmet Altan, a well-known novelist and journalist.
Istanbul’s 10th Court of Penal Peace on September 22 arraigned Altan on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the government. The charges stem from the allegation that Altan is a follower of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” within Turkey – the Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization, or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it – that it says was behind a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.
According to the court’s order to jail Altan pending trial, a copy of which was published by the news website T24, prosecutors alleged FETÖ tried to shape public opinion to support the coup in advance, and that the organization did so through news media it controlled. The state alleged that on July 14, the day before the attempted coup, Altan had “mentioned that there is an atmosphere suitable for a coup” on a TV show he had co-hosted on Can Erzincan TV together with another journalist, Nazlı Ilıcak, who is under arrest on similar accusations. The government used emergency powers it claimed after the coup to close Can Erzincan TV by decree on July 27.
Prosecutors alleged Altan had advance knowledge of the coup attempt, citing his words on the TV program as: “Probably inside the Turkish state there is a structure watching, documenting all these developments more than the outside world. It is not certain when [this structure] will show its face.”
The court rejected the defense’s argument at the arraignment that Altan’s statements constituted protected speech, since it did not consider them to have been made “for the public good.”
Altan denied all charges.
In court, interrogators asked Altan who controlled the newspaper Özgür Düşünce, where he worked, whether he had met Gülen, and whether he had kissed his hand. Altan responded that he had met Gülen once for journalistic purposes, and denied having kissed the preacher’s hand. The court documents published by T24 list only Altan’s answers, not the questions or who was asking them.
Mehmet Altan is on trial alongside Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, a former columnist for Özgür Düşünce and a former TV host for the shuttered broadcaster Can Erzincan TV; Fevzi Yazıcı, the former layout editor for the shuttered newspaper Zaman; Yakup Şimşek, the newspaper’s former advertising director; and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, a former police academy instructor and TV commentator, according to reports. The trial began on July 19, reports said.
The defendants are all charged with: “attempting to eliminate the Constitutional order,” “attempting to eliminate the government of Turkey or to prevent it from its duties partially or totally through violence and force,” “attempting to eliminate the parliament of Turkey or to prevent it from its duties partially or totally through violence and force,” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member,” according to the indictment.
All the defendants denied the charges.
Ahmet Altan described his indictment as “judicial pornography.” Mehmet Altan denied that he sent “subliminal messages” on TV favoring the coup before the attempted takeover took place. The media monitoring group P24 published the brothers’ full statements in their defense, translated into English.
The next hearing was scheduled for December 11, 2017.
In October 2017, the journalists’ lawyer, Tobias Garnett, told CPJ via email that the European Court of Human Rights had accepted an application for the court to review the Altan brothers’ case. The Turkish government was due to present its defense to the court by December 5, 2017, according to reports.
The journalist is detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.