Turkey sentences journalists, draws criticism ahead of summit

Turkey’s sentencing of five journalists to life for involvement in a failed 2016 coup shows that the country’s judiciary cannot make independent decisions, the president of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) said on Monday (19 February) and urged the Council of Europe to take action.

German newspapers publish a photo provided by Turkish lawyer Veysel Ok showing German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel…after he was released from Silivri Prison in Istanbul, picture taken in Berlin, Germany, 17 February 2018. [Alexander Becher/ EPA]

Altogether six people were sentenced, including five members of the press. One journalist was released on bail but Otmar Lahodynsky, AEJ president, said that was hardly reassuring.

“The release on bail of Deniz Yücel, Turkey correspondent for the German daily Die Welt, after being held for a year without charge in a high-security prison, cannot be taken as evidence of a freely-functioning Turkish judiciary,” Lahodynsky said adding that Yücel, now in Germany, still faces the threat of up to 18 years in jail for “encouraging terrorism”.

Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, and his brother Ahmet, also a journalist, were accused of giving coded messages on a television talk show a day before the abortive military putsch. Nazli Ilicak, another well-known journalist, was also among the sentenced.

AEJ said there were more than 150 Turkish journalists still in prison, most still waiting for the charge against them. Media lawyers report that in some indictments entire passages from other cases are identical: the “copy and paste” method apparently saves time.

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