A high court in Turkey has declined to uphold aggravated life sentences of journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak, the T24 news portal reported on Friday.
The three journalists were sentenced over alleged links to the network of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who is living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, US, since 1999.
Turkish government regards the Gulen group as a terrorist organization and accuses it of masterminding the failed military coup on July 15, 2016.
The 16th Criminal Department of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday declined to uphold the sentences handed down by a lower court and cleared journalist Altan as well as Ilicak of charges related to violating the constitution.
However, the court reportedly maintained that both of the journalists, who are defendants in the same case and have been in jail for more than 1,000 days, provided support to the Gulen movement.
Due to a lack of sufficient and convincing evidence, journalist Mehmet Altan, who is Ahmet Altan’s brother, was also acquitted by the same court of both charges, including constitution violation and aiding the Gulen network.
The cases against the three journalists, who were jailed shortly after the coup attempt, will be re-heard by the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court following the higher court ruling.
Only Mehmet Altan of the three journalists was released pending appeal last year.
The Constitutional Court, the rulings of which are binding for all subordinate courts across Turkey’s legal landscape and judicial system ruled in May that the arrest of Altan and Ilicak had a legal basis and that their rights were not violated.
Due to the rulings of the case that came after the post-coup crackdown, Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups criticized the country’s judicial independence under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ranking 157th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists and is increasing state crackdown on critical media.
More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government since the attempted putsch, and widespread arrests are still routine in a crackdown, which critics say demonstrates growing autocracy in Turkey.
Because of their alleged links to Gulen’s network, some 150,000 people from the public and private sectors, and military have also been sacked or suspended.
Gulen, as well as his followers, strongly deny coup-related accusations or links to any terror activities.