NEW YORK—The decision by the 26th High Criminal Court in Istanbul to convict Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through the use of force and violence​ is​ a horrific assault on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey, and on the rights and liberties of these individuals, PEN America said​​ ​in a statement ​today. ​​The trio—along with three other journalists—w​ere sentenced​​ ​to life in prison.

“​These sentences are an egregious violation of the rights of Ahmet, Mehmet, and Nazli,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Today’s verdict serves as incontrovertible evidence of the severe erosion of Turkey’s democracy, demonstrates that the courts too have ​utterly ​abandoned their responsibility to uphold the rule of law and safeguard freedom of speech, and sets a horrible precedent for the other trials to come.”

In September 2016, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show hosted by Ilicak, the Altan brothers and Ilicak were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force. The three have been serving time in pre-trial detention since their 2016 arrests.

Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 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 a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet 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.

CONTACT: Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs: [email protected]