A regional court of appeals in Ankara has ruled to uphold the aggravated life sentences of four defendants — journalist Hidayet Karaca, former lawmaker İlhan İşbilen, Fethullah Gülen’s cousin Kazım Avcı and Alaeddin Kaya, former owner of the Zaman newspaper — Turkish media reported on Friday.
In June 2018 the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court handed down aggravated life sentences to Karaca, former chief executive of the Samanyolu Media Group; İşbilen, a former member of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); and Avcı and Kaya on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order.
Their aggravated life sentences were upheld by the 20th Criminal Chamber of the Ankara Regional Court of Justice on Friday, as part of a case that was launched against 75 people accused of having links to the faith-based movement inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
The sentences of three other defendants — Gülen lawyers Abdülkadir Aksoy and Ali Çelik, and businessman Dilaver Azim, who received 10 years, six months for “membership in a terrorist organization” — were also upheld by the court.
The chamber also ruled for a continuation of detention for the seven defendants, who will now be able to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Sixty-seven out of the 75 defendants of the case live outside of Turkey, and one of them, Cemal Uşşak, passed away from cancer in 2016.
Sixty-three-year-old Avcı has faced numerous medical problems in prison due to being an amputee. He was put in pretrial detention in December 2015 and had lost 22 kilograms in the first five months of his incarceration.
Seventy-four-year-old İşbilen was hospitalized in late September after contracting COVID-19 at Ankara’s Sincan Prison and is now reportedly suffering from an embolism.
According to Turkish media, he applied for release on probation numerous times due to the high risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the crowded prison, but his petitions were rejected by the authorities as he was an opponent of the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization and accuses members of the group of masterminding a coup attempt that claimed the lives of 251 people in July 2016.
Although Gülen and his followers strongly deny all coup-related allegations and any involvement in terrorist activity, Ankara launched a massive crackdown following the abortive putsch and detained or arrested almost 80,000 people while prosecuting more than 511,000 over alleged links to the group.
Parliament passed a law in April that allowed for the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding in jails and protect detainees from the coronavirus. However, the bill excluded inmates jailed on terrorism charges, including İşbilen and many others swept up in the government-led crackdown.
Scores of inmates have died, allegedly due to the negligence of prison authorities across the country during the pandemic, according to reports by Turkish news outlets critical of the Erdoğan administration.