OSCE, UN representatives: Life sentences for Turkish journalists an attack on freedom of expression

Harlem Désir (L) and David Kaye

Today’s court decision to imprison journalists for life constitutes an unparalleled level of suppression of dissenting voices in Turkey, Harlem Désir, OSCE representative on freedom of the media, and David Kaye, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said today, according to an OSCE press release.

Concluding the fifth and final hearing of the coup attempt media trial, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court ruled to punish all six imprisoned defendants, including journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, with aggravated life sentences for attempting to disrupt constitutional order.

“The court decision condemning journalists to aggravated life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey,” said Kaye.

“The magnitude of these punishments, and the fact that the court failed to implement a related, binding ruling of the Constitutional Court, also raise fundamental questions about the ability of the judiciary to uphold the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression,” said Désir.

Désir was referring to a Constitutional Court decision of Jan. 11, 2018 that ruled to release from pretrial detention Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, another well-known journalist held in prison since July 2016, on the grounds that their detention was disproportionate and infringed on their right to liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The representative and the special rapporteur welcomed the ruling, calling it a landmark decision that could positively affect other ongoing trials of jailed journalists in the country. Lower courts, however, declined to implement the Constitutional Court decision, saying that the court had exceeded its authority.

In November 2017, Kaye submitted a third party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights on the cases of 10 Turkish journalists currently pending before the court, including the Altan brothers, Alpay and Ilıcak.

“We call on Turkey to reverse today’s decision and release the journalists. Imprisonment for journalism not only silences the journalists, but it also deprives Turkish citizens of their right to access pluralistic views on issues that can directly affect their lives,” said Désir and Kaye.

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