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Turkish writer given new prison term after life jailing

Ahmet Altan was convicted of publishing 'terror propaganda' and insulting Turkish President Erdogan
A journalist poses with a portrait of Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan on June 19, 2017 in front of the Istanbul courthouse, where his trial is to take place (AFP)

An Istanbul court on Wednesday handed a prominent Turkish writer another jail term of almost six years, just over a week after he was sentenced to life in prison in a separate case.

Ahmet Altan was convicted on two charges of publishing "terror propaganda" and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was sentenced to a total of five years and 11 months in jail.

Altan was jailed for life on February 16 , along with his writer brother Mehmet and veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak,  on charges of links to the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup in Turkey.

That verdict had raised fresh alarm over freedom of expression under Erdogan in Turkey, where dozens of journalists and writers have been arrested under a state of emergency.

In the latest ruling, Altan was given three years jail for an article said to have been propaganda for outlawed Kurdish militants.

He received another two years and 11 months jail for insulting Erdogan in a text used for his defence in the previous trial.

The latest sentences came on the same day that Mehmet Altan published an essay in the New York Times seeking to play up the absurdity and tragedy of his case.

"We will never be pardoned and we will die in a prison cell," he wrote. "I am going to Hades. I walk into the darkness like a god who wrote his own destiny."

Meanwhile, a group of prominent writers including Nobel prize winners Svetlana Alexievich, JM Coetzee and Kazuo Ishiguro published an open letter to Erdogan in the Guardian on the Altan brothers and Ilicak case, calling for their release.

"During a ceremony in honour of Cetin Altan on 2 February 2009, you declared publicly that 'Turkey is no longer the same old Turkey who used to sentence its great writers to prison – this era is gone for ever.'" read the letter, addressing Erdogan.

"Among the audience were Cetin Altan’s two sons: Ahmet and Mehmet. Nine years later, they are sentenced to life; isn’t that a fundamental contradiction?"

The letter called for the "abrogation of the state of emergency, a quick return to the rule of law and for full freedom of speech and expression."

"Such a move would result in the speedy acquittal on appeal of Ms Ilicak and the Altan brothers, and the immediate release of others wrongfully detained. Better still, it would make Turkey again a proud member of the free world."

Mehmet Altan was in January ordered to be freed by the Constitutional Court on the grounds his rights had been violated. But the ruling was not implemented by the criminal courts, in a move that outraged supporters.

The Altan brothers and Ilicak are also accused of appearing together on a TV show just before the coup bid and issuing a message that the attempted overthrow was in the offing. 

Ahmet Altan, 67, is a novelist and journalist who wrote for Turkey's leading dailies and founded the now-closed opposition daily Taraf. He has also written a dozen novels.