Free speech and human rights organisations call for Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and other journalists to be released

UPDATE: Index on Censorship is delighted to learn of the news that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak have been released from prison and that Mehmet Altan has been acquitted and released.

We nonetheless remain concerned that Altan and Ilıcak were convicted and are on probation, and that their co-defendants — Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül — remain in detention after having been convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

Ahead of the second hearing in the retrial of Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and four other journalists and media workers, Article 19 and 16 free speech and human rights organisations call for all detained defendants to be released and for the charges to be dropped. We believe that the charges against Altan and the other defendants are politically motivated and the case should never have gone to trial.  We believe that the new charges are also bogus, as no credible evidence has been presented linking the defendants to terrorism. 

Altan and Ilıcak have been in pre-trial detention for over three years on bogus charges. They were initially charged with sedition and are now being re-tried on terrorism charges following a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals. The final prosecutor’s opinion has been published ahead of the hearing on Monday 4 November, revealing that the prosecutor will ask for the judge to sentence significantly above the minimum required sentence for these offences. If the judge rules in line with the Prosecutor’s opinion, this will mean that the defendants will remain in detention during the appeals process which could take many more months. 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.

We have serious concerns regarding the panel of judges overseeing this retrial. It will be presided over by the same judge who oversaw the first trial, which involved several violations of the right to a fair trial and according to the Bar Human Rights Committee, “gave the appearance of a show trial”. The same panel of judges also previously refused to implement the Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights rulings that Mehmet Altan’s rights had been violated by his pre-trial detention, sparking off a constitutional crisis

With the Constitutional Court failing to find a violation in the case of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak in May 2019, we look to the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) for justice. In 2018, the Court found several violations of Mehmet Altan’s rights. The Court also said that it would keep the effectiveness of remedies before the Constitutional Court under review. Altan and Ilıcak have now spent over three years in pre-trial detention. If the judge rules on Monday in line with the Prosecutor’s final opinion, they will be condemned to an even longer period of unjustified detention. By January 2020, their applications before the Strasbourg Court will have been pending for three years. A judgment from the European Court of Human Rights on their cases is now crucial. 




Article 19

Articolo 21

Danish Pen

English Pen

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Freedom House

German Pen

Global Editors Network (GEN)


Index on Censorship

Norwegian Pen

P24 – Platform for Independent Journalism

Pen America

Pen Canada

Pen International

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish Pen


About the case

The retrial in the case of writers and media workers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül began on 8 October 2019, after the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned their convictions of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence and force” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code, for which they had been given aggravated life sentences. The Supreme Court of Appeals found that there had been no evidence of their use of “violence and force” and that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted entirely due to lack of sufficient evidence. The charges for the other five defendants were reduced: Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak face new charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation” while Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül face charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Their re-trial, on new charges, began in October 2019 and the second hearing, at which the judge may rule on the case is on November 4, 2019. 

More detailed information on these cases and the retrial can be found here

ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the court in June 2018:


Freedom of expression in Turkey

Under President Erdogan’s rule, freedom of expression has severely declined in Turkey. Over the last four years, at least 3,673 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed and the judiciary effectively purged of anyone who is perceived as opposing the government through the exercise of freedom of expression. Around 170 media outlets have been closed down over claims they spread “terrorist propaganda”. Only 21 of these have been able to reopen, some of them however being subject to major changes in their management boards. Turkey has become the world’s biggest jailor of journalists with at least 121 journalists and media workers currently in prison and hundreds more on trial.

For more information on freedom of expression in Turkey, please see our joint NGO submission for Turkey’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations


For further information Pam Cowburn, [email protected], 07749 785 932.

Turkey: Rights groups to monitor criminal trial against journalists accused of participating in coup


Journalist Ahmet Altan is charged with inserting subliminal messages in support of the failed 15 July coup in Turkey.

Journalist Ahmet Altan is charged with inserting subliminal messages in support of the failed 15 July coup in Turkey.

On 19 June, the first hearing will take place in a trial concerning 17 defendants, including a number of journalists. Among the defendants are prominent novelists and political commentators, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak. The case is the first trial of journalists accused of taking part in last year’s failed coup

The case is the first trial of journalists accused of taking part in last year’s failed coup attempt and may shed light on how the courts will approach numerous cases concerning the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial under the state of emergency.

Representatives of Article 19, Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, Norwegian PEN and PEN International will be attending the hearing in order to demonstrate solidarity with the defendants, and with media freedom more broadly in Turkey. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Senior Lawyers Project are also sending observers to the hearing.

The charges against the accused are detailed in a 247-page long indictment which identifies President Erdogan and the Turkish government as the victims. Defendants Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are charged with “attempting to overthrow the Turkish Grand National Assembly”, “attempting to overthrow the Government of Turkey”, “attempting to abolish the Constitutional order” and “Committing crimes on behalf of an armed terrorist organisation without being a member”. The remaining defendants are additionally charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”, in reference to the Gülen movement who the Turkish government accuses of having orchestrated the coup attempt.

The majority of those on trial are either currently in exile or have been held in pre-trial detention for almost 10 months.  On 14 June, the European Court of Human Rights wrote to the Turkish government requesting its response to a number of questions to determine whether the human rights of seven detained journalists, including the Altans and Nazlı Ilıcak, have been violated due to the long pre-trial detention.

We believe the trial to be politically motivated and call on the authorities to drop all charges against the accused unless they can provide concrete evidence of commission of internationally recognisable criminal offences and to immediately and unconditionally release those held in pre-trial detention.

Article 19 has prepared an expert opinion examining the charges against the Altan brothers, at the request of their defence lawyers, which will be submitted to the court on Monday morning. The opinion argues that the charges levelled against the Altans amount to unlawful restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. 

For more detailed information regarding the context for free expression in Turkey, please see a joint statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2017.

For further information please contact:

Sarah Clarke, International Policy and Advocacy Manager, PEN International,
Georgia Nash,Programme Officer – Middle East & North Africa / Europe & Central Asia, ARTICLE 19, [email protected]
Melody Patry, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship, [email protected]

For more information about the trial, please contact Tobias Garnett: +90 (0) 541 827 0000

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Yavuz Baydar: Turkey’s rounding up reporters, editors and columnists

Şahin Alpay

Şahin Alpay is a columnist for multiple newspapers, including Yarina Bakis, which was forced to suspend its print edition after the coup.

It was 6am when Professor Şahin Alpay and his wife heard the knock at the door. It was the police. They had come to take him into custody.

The 72-year-old journalist’s flat was searched for two hours. As he was led away, Alpay said: “I do not know why I am being taken away. I am not in a position to say anything.”

Alpay was only one of 47 journalists who were subject to arrest under warrants issued on Wednesday. The list included the names of columnists, editors and reporters who formerly had been employed in Zaman daily, which was seized by the security forces last March. It and its journalists now stand accused of being the so-called media leg of Fethullah Gülen terror organisation.

Alpay has been one of the most consistent and powerful socially liberal voices in Turkey for decades. He is very well known in European political circles, particularly in Sweden where he had completed his doctorate. He is respected within Germany’s social democratic, liberal and green movements. For years, he had been part of democracy projects conducted by the Ebert and Naumann foundations. Until very recently he had taught political science at Bahçeşehir University and continued to write columns in multiple newspapers.

The list also includes names such as Hilmi Yavuz, an 80-year-old poet, philosopher and literary critic, who is also well known abroad. Other names on the list wereP rofessor İhsan Dağı, a brilliant liberal scholar, and theologue Ali Bulaç.

Then there are journalists: Lale Kemal, an outstanding analyst of defence issues for Jane’s Defence Weekly; Nuriye Akman, who is well known for her long interviews; Bülent Keneş, former editor-in-chief of  Today’s Zaman, which is now controlled by trustees appointed by the government. The list goes on and on.

On Monday, a list of arrest warrants issued against 42 journalists. On Wednesday there were 47 more names. With this second wave of arrests, there seems no doubt that the clampdown on critical and independent journalism will continue in stages. The first wave targeted reporters regardless of the publications they were affiliated with. The second wave was aimed at Zaman. The message shared on social media: there is more to come.

Turkey’s situation cannot be any more serious. The aftermath of the completely unacceptable and bloody coup is marked by an incomprehensible priority to target dissenting intellectuals. This is reminiscent of the pattern the generals set down after the military coup in 1980. The targets were communists then, now it’s Gülenists that are the subject of the massive witch hunt.

The accusation directed at Nazlı Ilıcak, a 71-year-old veteran journalist on the centre right-liberal flank, is rather telling. The lawyers say that she is to be charged with “establishing the media leg of FETO terror organisation”, meaning a lifetime imprisonment if the charge sticks.

This was the overall picture as of the past 24 hours. It is, then, completely appropriate that, now that the witch hunt is openly targeting liberals on the right and left in Turkey, the rules of the emergency rule paves the way for a counter-putsch or, as the veteran journalist, Hasan Cemal, a close friend of Alpay and Ilıcak, labelled as “civilian coup”.

Indeed, Wednesday morning Human Rights Watch was swift in issuing an SOS warning to the world about the emergency rule, which now allows the authorities to keep people in custody up to 30 days.

“It is an unvarnished move for an arbitrary, mass, and permanent purge of the civil service, prosecutors, and judges, and to close down private institutions and associations without evidence, justification, or due process,” HRW said.

“The wording of the decree is vague and open-ended, permitting the firing of any public official conveniently alleged to be ‘in contact’ with members of ‘terrorist organizations’, but with no need for an investigation to offer any evidence in support of it,” Emma Sinclair-Webb said. “The decree can be used to target any opponent – perceived or real – beyond those in the Gülen movement.”

This is the list of 47 journalists targeted for arrest:

Osman Nuri Öztürk, Ali Akbulut, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış, Hüseyin Döğme, Süleyman Sargın, Veysel Ayhan, Şeref Yılmaz, Mehmet Akif Afşar, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Alaattin Güner, Faruk Kardıç, Metin Tamer Gökçeoğlu, Faruk Akkan, Mümtaz’er Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Ali Ünal, Mustafa Ünal, Zeki Önal, Hilmi Yavuz, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu (Lale Kemal), Ali Bulaç, Bülent Korucu, İhsan Duran Dağı, Nuriye Ural (Akman), Hamit Çiçek, Adil Gülçek, Hamit Bilici, Şenol Kahraman, Melih Kılıç, Nevzat Güner, Mehmet Özdemir, Fevzi Yazıcı, Sedat Yetişkin, Oktay Vızvız, Abdullah Katırcıoğlu, Behçet Akyar, Murat Avcıoğlu, Yüksel Durgut, Zafer Özsoy, Cuma Kaya, Hakan Taşdelen, Osman Nuri Arslan, Ömer Karakaş.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.

Yavuz Baydar: Erdogan is ruling Turkey by decree

Büşra Erdal, mentioned in the text, surrendered in Manisa and taken to police hq in handcuffs.

Büşra Erdal, who surrendered in Manisa, taken to police headquarters in handcuffs.

“It was very, very close,” according to a source who followed the case of columnist and human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. By a hair he had avoided detention. While Cengiz has now been released, he is unable to travel abroad.

During the interrogation, Cengiz had repeatedly been asked about critical tweets he had posted about a year ago. “Those who led the interrogation were utterly hostile, seemingly set for finding a pretext to hold him in custody,” my source said. Cengiz’s friends believe that his impeccable international reputation and his work for the European Court of Human Rights, where he has defended Kurds and even, in a couple of cases, Turkish Islamists against the state, may have saved him from a jail cell.

However, there is nothing to suggest the easing this post-coup witch hunt. Yesterday, the veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested at a police checkpoint in Bodrum and taken into custody. Judicial affairs journalist Büşra Erdal surrendered after she tweeted that she was being punished for her work. Sadly the powerful Doğan Media Group outlets, of which both honourable journalists are affiliated, remained silent. Not a word of support was seen in any of the group’s newspapers.

The only support came from the Enis Berberoğlu, former chief editor at Hürriyet and now MP and deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who tweeted: “As their superior once, I was mainly responsible for the stories and the sections that Bülent Mumay and Arda Akın wrote and worked for. I vouch and stand for them.”

Against the backdrop of the authorities’ search for 42 journalists, pro-government media was busy on Tuesday inciting hatred for the columnists and asking for their imprisonment, including the daily Akşam. The pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) daily Sabah added to the flames by accusing columnists such as Hasan Cemal, Kadri Gürsel, Cengiz Çandar, Perihan Mağden, Mehmet Altan and others of provoking the coup. These journalists and columnists are no longer allowed to express themselves in any media outlet.

Perhaps more than anything else, it was a crucial legal appointment that worried Turkey’s dissident figures in media and academia. In a hasty move, the government named İrfan Fidan as the chief prosecutor for Istanbul. Until Monday, Fidan was a deputy attorney in Istanbul’s Anti-Terror and Organised Crime Unit. What’s most notable, however, is that Fidan was the prosecutor who sentenced Cumhuriyet editors Erdem Gül and Can Dündar to five years and five years and ten months, respectively, in prison. The pair had covered the alleged supply of arms to Syrian jihadist groups by the Turkish secret service.

Academic Esra Mungan and three others who had signed the peace petition for the Kurds clashed were also detained due to his efforts. In another example, Fidan had taken over the case that implicated high-ranking AKP ministers and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family members in corruption. He dismissed all charges.

Many fear, therefore, that his appointment to such a powerful post may come to mean a steep escalation against journalists and scholars in the coming weeks.

All other signs, too, indicate harder times.

On Monday night, in the midst of turmoil, Erdogan ratified the law which, in practice, subordinates the high judiciary to the political executive and immediately after the Board of Judges and Prosecutors, led by the Justice Ministry, implemented a long series of appointments and removals in the Court of Cassation and Council of State.

Erdogan met with two opposition party leaders. CHP and Nationalist Movement Party leaders were invited, but not the third largest elected one, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party. It was a deliberate choice, raising eyebrows on how serious the ruling AKP is about rebuilding democracy. In addition, Erdogan spoke for a possible extension of emergency rule for an additional three months.

Meanwhile, Turkey will be run by decrees and everybody knows what that means.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.