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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Turkey sentences journalists to life over failed coup

Prosecution is part of government crackdown on people and institutions linked to alleged mastermind of July 2016 coup attempt

Journalist Nazli Ilicak poses in Mugla after being detained by Turkish police on July 26, 2016. Ilicak and five others were sentenced to life terms on February 16, 2018 over links to the group blamed for a failed coup in July 2016. Ilhas News Agency / AFP
Journalist Nazli Ilicak poses in Mugla after being detained by Turkish police on July 26, 2016. Ilicak and five others were sentenced to life terms on February 16, 2018 over links to the group blamed for a failed coup in July 2016. Ilhas News Agency / AFP

A Turkish court on Friday sentenced six journalists and media employees to life terms over a failed coup in 2016.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said the court in Silivri, on the outskirts of Istanbul, convicted journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak and three other media sector employees of crimes against the state. One other defendant was acquitted.

They are the first journalists to be convicted over the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, which Turkey says was orchestrated by a network led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement. Their conviction came as another court in the same courthouse ordered German journalist Deniz Yucel — detained in Turkey for a year — released from jail pending trial.

The defendants, who are expected to appeal the ruling, were charged with attempts against Turkey's constitution and membership in a terror organisation. The group were employed by Gulen-linked media organisations but have rejected the charges, denying any involvement in the coup attempt.

More than 38,000 people, including journalists, are in jail as part of an ongoing government purge of Mr Gulen's network of followers, launched in the aftermath of the coup. More than 110,000 have been sacked from government jobs.

Ahmet Altan, a former newspaper chief editor, and his brother, Mehmet Altan — a columnist and academic — were accused of appearing together with veteran journalist Ilicak in a political debate show on a Gulen-linked television channel. Prosecutors deemed that their comments indicated they had prior knowledge of the coup attempt.

In January, Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay — another journalist being tried separately — should be released pending the outcome of their trials. But a lower court refused to implement the decision, raising concerns about rule of law in the country.