NEW YORK—The sentencing of journalist Nazlı Ilıcak to 5 years and 10 months in prison for disclosing confidential information “that needed to remain secret for the security of the state” is a further blow to press freedom in Turkey, PEN America said in a statement today. 

In a decision reached on January 22, 2019, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court sentenced Ilıcak to 5 years and 10 months in prison in a case where she was charged with “sharing information that needed to remain secret for the security of the state.” She was convicted for an article titled “Military Intelligence and Tahşiyeciler” published on January 2, 2015, in Bugün, a newspaper allegedly close to Gulenist movement that was later shut down by the government. According to the court, in her article Ilıcak unlawfully revealed confidential intelligence information on the close links between radical jihadist group Tahşiyeciler and the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The sentencing in this case came several weeks after a positive development in a separate case against Ilicak. 

On January 8, 2019, finding the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” inapplicable, the Turkish General Prosecutor recommended a less serious charge be leveled against joint defendants Nazlı Ilıcak and brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan for comments they made on a television program, stating that they should re-sit trial for the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” The latter charge is punishable by one to three years in prison, unlike the former charge for which they are currently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

“Ilicak’s sentencing is yet a further example of the risks of investigative or critical journalism in Turkey,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Dozens of reporters are currently languishing in Turkish jails. We reiterate our calls for authorities to cease detaining, charging, and sentencing journalists for doing their jobs, and for defendants such as Nazli Ilicak to be unconditionally exonerated and released. Writing an article or expressing an opinion on national television should not be considered criminal activities.” 

Arrested in September 2016, the Altan brothers and Ilıcak have been subject to multiple politicized charges, and in the most serious case, were convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” through use of force and violence and sentenced to life imprisonment. In reaching its decision, the trial court took account of their journalistic activities, including their criticism of the authorities during a TV program broadcast the day before the July 2016 coup attempt. In October 2018, the appeal court upheld the verdict of the trial court, which was then made subject to an appeal by the defendants before the Supreme Court of Appeal. In July 2018, after an intense procedural crisis and legal battle, Mehmet Altan was discharged from prison (although still subject to judicial controls), but his brother Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak currently remain behind bars. PEN America has advocated on their behalf and on behalf of other writers and journalists at risk in Turkey; more on our advocacy can be found here.

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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

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