Turkish court frees two journalists under supervision

Istanbul (AFP) –


A Turkish court on Monday ordered the release under supervision of two prominent journalists jailed over alleged links to the failed 2016 coup in the country.

Ahmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were sentenced to 10 and a half years and eight years and nine months respectively for "helping a terrorist group", state news agency Anadolu reported.

Nevertheless, they were ordered freed under judicial control for time already served -- around three years each.

Both were ordered not to leave the country.

They were accused of ties to the outlawed group of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of ordering the failed coup targeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Altan and Ilicak, both respected intellectuals in Turkey, were sentenced to life in prison in 2018, but the Court of Cassation overturned the ruling in July this year.

The court said they should not have been tried over the attempted coup, but instead for the charge of "helping a terrorist group", which carries a shorter prison sentence.

Erdogan accuses former ally-turned-foe Gulen of having ordered the attempted coup and lists his movement as a "terrorist" organisation. Gulen has strongly denied any involvement in the failed coup bid.

It was unclear when the two journalists would be able to leave prison.

Altan, 69, is a novelist and journalist who founded the opposition Taraf newspaper, which has since shut down.

His brother, journalist Mehmet Altan, was acquitted by the court on Monday after being released last year.

Ilicak, 74, is a former MP who wrote for leading newspapers including Hurriyet.

Ahmed Altan and Ilicak have denied any involvement in the failed coup, calling such accusations "grotesque".

They were accused of sending "subliminal messages" that an overthrow of the government was imminent during a televised panel hosted by Ilicak.

Altan cut a defiant figure during Monday's hearing, saying: "If you want to keep me in jail, do so for as long as you want. I'm not afraid," Turkish media reported.

"I prefer to spend the rest of my life in prison than to give in to fear," he reportedly added.

Both Altan and Ilicak were arrested during a mass crackdown on journalists that followed the coup bid.

Altan wrote a book about his time in prison called "I Will Never See the World Again".

Turkey ranked 157 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.