Two prominent journalists in Turkey who spent more than three years behind bars have been released following a court order late on Monday, according to a report by the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA).
The Istanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court on Monday ordered the release of Ahmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak under judicial control, taking into account the time they had already served in jail.
As part of Monday’s ruling the court also sentenced Altan to 10 years and six months in jail and Ilicak to eight years and nine months for “aiding and abetting a terror organization knowingly and willingly.”
However, the court then ruled that the pair could be released as they had already served more than three years in prison.
Ilicak got out of Istanbul’s Bakırkoy Women’s Closed Penitentiary around 11 pm on Monday while Altan left the Silivri Penitentiaries Campus, also in Istanbul, half an hour later, AA said.
“The first moment I learned about my release order, I felt a little sad for those other guys who could not get out. There are thousands of innocent men in there. This is sad, of course,” Altan told reporters after his release.
When asked about what he will do to make up for the years he has lost, Altan said: “My years have not been lost, I did not let that happen. I wrote books [in jail]. I wouldn’t lose my years that easily.”
He added that what he missed the most while he was imprisoned for 1138 days was looking at the sky and seeing the people that he loves to be with.
Speaking to Elif Algul from the T24 news portal, Altan’s lawyer Figen Albuga Calikusu underlined that her client’s only crime that led to his three years, one month and 27 days’ imprisonment was “thought.”
The lawyer emphasized that the decision to release Altan came much later than expected.
She referred to Huseyin Capkin, an ex-police commissioner who received a sentence of two years and a month over the same charges with Altan.
“If a man who serves as the face of the government can be given the lowest sentence [for the same crime as Altan], a man of thought [such as Altan] should not have been kept in prison for 1138 days,” Calikusu argued on Monday.
Upon her release, Ilicak called for reform on Turkey’s criminal execution law as soon as possible and added: “Please don’t let those who are still [unlawfully] in jail to be forgotten.”
Altan and Ilıcak, who were detained in September 2016, were given life sentences over charges that include aiding the network of the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, which is designated as a terror organization by Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP) government.
In July, Turkey’s high court overruled the life sentences against the journalists and sent the file back for re-trial.
Ankara blames Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, as well as members of his faith-based movement for masterminding 2016’s failed coup attempt, an accusation that they strongly deny.
Altan’s brother Mehmet Altan, also a journalist and a defendant in the same case who had already been released from detention, was on Monday acquitted of alleged links to the Gulen network due to a lack of clear evidence.
In the last three years, tens of thousands of people have been arrested as part of cases that the AKP government has linked to the putsch bid and to the Gulen movement.
The scale of the post-coup crackdown carried out under the rule of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against suspected Gulen supporters has alarmed the country’s Western allies and drawn criticism from both local and international human rights organizations.
More than 77,000 people were arrested and some 150,000 people from the public and private sectors and the military have also been dismissed or suspended from their jobs over suspected links to the cleric’s network.
Erdogan and his ruling AKP government keep allowing the widespread arrests that have become routine in a crackdown which is interpreted by dissidents and critics as mirroring Turkey’s growing autocracy.
Upon her release, Ilicak called for an amendment to the laws regulating the execution of punishments as soon as possible, and added, “Please don’t let those who are still in jail to be forgotten.”