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Leading Turkish writers released from jail despite new convictions

Ahmet Altan and Nazli Illicak were both convicted of 'aiding and abetting' a terrorist organisation
A journalist poses with a portrait of Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan (AFP)

Two leading Turkish writers have been released from jail on time served, after being convicted of supporting a "terrorist organisation".

The release of Ahmet Altan and Nazli Illicak came as both were convicted on Monday of "aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation without being a member" after spending more than three years in prison.

Illicak was arrested in July 2016, and Altan in September 2016, in the wake of the failed July coup attempt.

The two writers were initially sentenced to life in prison in February of last year. However, the Court of Cassation on Monday reversed that decision. Altan was instead sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison, while Illicak was sentenced to eight years and nine months.

The two were released under "judicial supervision" with international travel bans, owing to the time they had already spent in prison.

Ahmet Altan's brother Mehmet, also a writer arrested in September 2016, was released from jail in June 2018.

The imprisonment of the two writers has been highly controversial, with dozens of international writers, press freedom and human rights organisations offering support.

In a statement released ahead of Altan and Illicak's court appearance on Monday, PEN International and 16 other organisations released a statement calling for the release of the pair, as well as the other journalists on trial.

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"PEN believes that the charges against Altan and the other defendants are politically motivated and the case should never have gone to trial," read the statement.

"The on-going violation of their rights is a damning indictment of the state of Turkey’s judicial system, which has been placed under immense political pressure since the failed coup of July 2016."

Ahmet Altan published a book earlier this year that was written in prison entitled, I Will Never See the World Again, about his fears that he would never leave jail.

"It was a sentence that put an unbridgeable distance between itself and reality," he wrote of his original life sentence.

"It ignored reality, ridiculed it, even as I was being transformed into a pitiful bug who could not even open the door of the car he was in."

The Istanbul-based P24 press freedom group, which focuses on Turkey, said there were 144 journalists in jail in the country as of 28 June.

Turkey ranked 157 out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.