(New York)– A Turkish appeals court’s decision to overturn the life sentences of the Altan brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak, alongside three co-defendants, is an encouraging development for Turkish journalists and writers, PEN America said today.

Having been detained in 2016 after the failed coup attempt, the six people involved in the case were accused of violating the constitution through their alleged links to the Gulenist movement.

Nazlı Ilıcak, a journalist and former MP, was arrested in July 2016, and two months later in September, economist and journalist Mehmet Altan and his brother journalist and writer Ahmet Altan were arrested.

They were accused of violating the constitution based on their speech and writing before and after the failed coup.

The three were sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2018, and the sentence was later upheld. On July 5, 2019 the supreme court of appeals 16th penal chamber overturned the verdict of a life sentence. However, charges against Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were not dropped—with the court ruling that they were aware of the coup’s planning and had supported the Gulenist movement—and the court rejected their request for release. The court also decided to acquit Mehmet Altan, who was provisionally released a year ago, due to no sufficient and credible evidence.

“The convictions and life sentences handed down to all three journalists were unjust from the very start, and it is promising to see that the appeals court has overturned the life sentences and has acquitted Mehmet Altan,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “However, it is only the first step in restoring justice in this case. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are still being charged with baseless crimes and we renew our call for the acquittal and full exoneration of all three of these courageous journalists, and for their speedy release from prison.”

Following the July 2016 coup attempt and the imposition of a state of emergency by the current government, freedom of expression and of the press is under dramatic decline in Turkey. More than 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree, and there are more than 100 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

PEN America has campaigned on behalf of writers and journalists in prison or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including Aslı ErdoğanAhmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.


 PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org


Contact: PEN America Media Consulant Suzanne Trimel, strimel@pen.org