After a long imprisonment, writers Ahmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak are released. They are not allowed to leave Turkey.
Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan (archive photo) is free – but under conditions Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa
After more than three years in prison, writer Ahmet Altan (69) and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak (75) were released from custody last night. A court had released them on Monday evening, subject to conditions.
Ahmet Altan, one of Turkey’s most famous writers, had been active as a journalist for five years as editor-in-chief of the daily Taraf, and had been at the center of fierce political disputes on several occasions.
Nazlı Ilıcak is a conservative journalist who was long considered the grande dame of the Turkish media landscape. She was also a member of parliament for one term, in the ranks of the Islamic Fazilet (Virtue Party) – the forerunner of the AKP.
When the two were arrested shortly after the coup attempt in 2016, it came as a shock to many, because until then hardly anyone could have imagined that such prominent figures could end up in jail. Both were accused of having known about and supported the coup attempt in advance.
Furious defense speech
In his 2017 trial, Ahmet Altan had taken apart the prosecution in a furious defense speech, making it clear that his and Nazlı Ilıcak’s sole purpose was to silence two prominent critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nevertheless, as expected, he was sentenced to life in prison.
While in prison, he wrote the book "I Will Never See the World Again," a clear-eyed reckoning with the rule of Erdogan and other autocrats worldwide. He will be honored for this book with the Geschwister Scholl Prize in Munich at the end of November.
But despite his release, Ahmet Altan will not be able to receive the prize himself. Like Nazlı Ilıcak, he is not allowed to leave Turkey. At the beginning of 2018, Altan and Ilıcak had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and at the beginning of 2019, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals had overturned the "life sentence" verdicts against him and Nazlı Ilıcak.
The two should not have been sentenced for violating the constitution, the top judges said, but only for supporting the Islamist "Gulen movement." It is held mainly responsible in Turkey for the coup attempt.
In the retrial before the competent criminal court last week, the judges had sentenced Ahmet Altan to ten years in prison and Nazlı Ilıcak to eight years. Nevertheless, the judges released the two under conditions because they had already spent three years in prison.
The release is a clear indication that a large part of the Turkish judiciary is increasingly uncomfortable with the political sentences handed down to critics of the post-coup government. As Ahmet Altan had already made clear in his defense speech, "unjust regimes" can only hold on to power for a limited time. Just as they were convicted for political reasons, they are now being released for political reasons. Times are changing in Turkey.