Skip to main content

Turkish court sentences six journalists to life, frees another pending trial

Deniz Yucel still faces up to 18 years in jail as Berlin says it has not agreed to 'dirty deals or other arrangements' to secure the release
German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was detained in Turkey a year ago (Reuters)

A Turkish court on Friday sentenced six journalists to life in jail on charges of aiding the network blamed for a failed coup in 2016, state media said.

Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, and his journalist brother Ahmet, were charged with giving coded messages in a television talk show a day before the abortive 15 July military coup. Nazli Ilicak, another veteran journalist, was also handed life imprisonment.

Three other defendants were also sentenced to life for trying to abolish the constitution and overthrow the government.

All six - Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak, Fevzi Yazici, Yakup Simsek and Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul - were convicted of "resorting to force to topple Turkey's constitutional order".

Turkey's constitutional court had previously ordered the Altan brothers not be held in custody while a verdict was pending. The top court said it was not ruling on the details of the case but on trial procedure.

A seventh person - Tibet Murat Sanliman - not in custody, was acquitted.

“Today’s verdict and sentences of life without parole for Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak mark an apex of the disintegration of the rule of law in Turkey,” Sarah Clarke, policy and advocacy manager for PEN International, tweeted. “This sets a devastating precedent for scores of other journalists charged with similarly groundless charges.”

Turkey should reverse the decision to jail the journalists for life, the UN and OSCE experts on media freedom said in a joint statement.

“These harsh sentences are an unacceptable and unprecedented assault on freedom of expression and on the media in Turkey,” David Kaye and Harlem Desir said in a joint statement issued by the UN human rights office. 

German-Turkish journalist freed

Separately on Friday, German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was detained in Turkey a year ago, has been indicted for alleged security offences but a court has decided to release him pending trial, state-run Turkish news agency Anadolu said on Friday.

Die Welt, the German newspaper for which he works, had reported earlier in the day that Yucel had been freed, citing his lawyer. A German government spokeswoman confirmed the news, which could ease some of the tensions between the NATO allies.

'I believe that this will lead to (Yucel) being able to leave the country... I hope this will happen very soon'

- Sigmar Gabriel, German Foreign Minister 

Anadolu said a Turkish court has accepted an indictment seeking up to 18 years in jail for Yucel on charges of "spreading terrorist propaganda" and "stirring enmity" and opted to free him ahead of trial.

After his release, Yucel headed straight to Germany. A Reuters photographer saw his plane taxiing after landing at Berlin's Tegel airport. German ARD television reported that he had disembarked the aircraft.

"This is a good day. Deniz Yucel is free," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel earlier told reporters. "I can assure you there are no agreements, trade-offs, or deals in connection with this."

Yucel was jailed in February last year on suspicion of spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting violence. He denies the accusations.
"Finally! Best news ever. Deniz Yucel is free," German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a tweet.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said during a regular news conference on Friday that the release would be "an important first step" after massive diplomatic efforts.

A foreign ministry spokesman said there were still contentious issues between Germany and Turkey, whose ties deteriorated after Ankara's crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in 2016.

Yucel's case has become the focus of particular attention for Germany.

The spokeswoman said that Berlin had not agreed to any "dirty deals or other arrangements" to secure the release.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who met Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks in Berlin on Thursday, earlier this week had raised the prospect that Yucel could soon be freed.

Turkey says its crackdown since the coup attempt – with the arrest of some 50,000 people - is needed for security reasons. It has criticised Germany for not handing over asylum seekers it accuses of involvement in the failed coup.

In January, Turkey urged Germany, its biggest trading partner and NATO ally, to mend fences and they have since resumed bilateral government consultations that were suspended after Yucel's arrest.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.