Demand for the release of prominent Turkish journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak who have spent more than three years in prison has again been rejected by an Istanbul court.
The dissident journalists were given life in jail over charges that include attempting a coup against an elected government, trying to overthrow Turkey’s civilian government and constitutional order and being a member of an armed terrorist organization.
The T24 news portal reported that the Istanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court on Tuesday rejected the critical journalists’ demand to be released from jail, following more than three years of being arrested pending trial.
According to a news report by Gokcer Tahincioglu from T24, the court justified its verdict by referring to a ruling of Turkey’s Constitutional Court in May that the rights to freedom and security of journalists Altan and Ilicak were not violated.
The Constitutional Court rulings are binding for all subordinate courts across Turkey’s legal landscape and judicial system.
The Istanbul court’s decision to reject the release of the critical journalists also followed a ruling by the 16th Criminal Department of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in July that cleared the two journalists of charges related to violating the constitution.
The high court said that they can only be prosecuted for charges related to providing support for a terrorist organization.
The two journalists were therefore expected to be released due to spending enough time behind bars that amount to the sentence for the remaining charges against them.
The same court also rejected release demands by two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, brand marketing manager Yakup Simsek and art director Fevzi Yazici and former Police Academy lecturer Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul.
The daily was shut down by the Turkish state in May 2016, after it was taken over by government-appointed trustees for being linked to the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen’s movement.
Although the ruling AK Party (AKP) identifies the group as a terror organization and accuses it of masterminding the failed 2016 military coup, Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and his followers strongly deny any links to terror groups or activities.
Numerous critics, activists, human rights organizations and legal experts hold forth that the charges brought against Turkey’s dissident journalists are politically grounded.
They claim that the trials lacked transparency, denial of the right to legal counsel and contained many other obstacles that imperiled the prospect of a fair trial.
Turkey, which ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index according to Reporters Without Borders, has the highest number of imprisoned journalists and is increasing state crackdown on critical media.