Public opinion was split after news emerged that a Turkish court had ordered the release of prominent journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak.
The pair had spent more than three years in prison after being arrested in 2016 and charged with aiding FETÖ (Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization), which is widely believed to have orchestrated the botched coup attempt on 15 July 2016.
The pair were given life sentences in 2018 for their perceived membership of FETÖ and role in the coup, charges they have both vehemently denied.
Following an appeal, the pair had their sentences reduced. Ahmet Altan was imprisoned for 10 years and 6 months, while Nazlı Ilıcak was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months for the same crime. Altan’s brother Mehmet was acquitted of the same charges.
On 4 November, Altan and Ilıcak were released on licence following time served in prison. The news prompted mixed reactions in Turkey and abroad.
Daniel Gorman, director of English PEN, said: “While we warmly welcome the news that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak have finally been released, we nevertheless remain deeply concerned that they and their co-defendants have been convicted on bogus terrorism charges.”
“We continue to call for the release of Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and the many others who remain in detention in Turkey, still the world’s biggest jailer of writers and journalists,” he added.
News of the newly-released journalists was less well received in Turkey. Many recalled how the pair helped frame innocent soldiers and civilians falsely accused in the staged Ergenekon and Balyoz trials.
Balyoz victim Ahmet Yavuz on Ahmet Altan & Nazlı Ilıcak: “I would be upset if they were tried for their actual crimes & released, because they have committed great crimes against humanity…against the [Turkish] Republic & the nation”
The suspects, which included senior members of the Turkish armed forces, were charged with being members of a clandestine, secularist ultra-nationalist organisation that were planning to overthrow the overtly religious AKP government.
Many people were jailed based on flimsy and often fabricated evidence. At least a dozen died while in jail or while under arrest, some by committing suicide, others because serious medical ailments were not properly treated.
Nazlı Ilıcak ve Ahmet Altan tahliye olmuş… BİR SÜRE CEZAEVİNDE YATTILAR.
TOPRAK ALTINDA YATMAYA DEVAM EDİYOR!
— Mehmet Ali Çelebi (@tgmcelebi) November 4, 2019
CHP MP Mehmet Ali Çelebi, who was also imprisoned during the Ergenekon trials when he was a lieutenant, slammed the decision to release Altan and Ilıcak, writing on Twitter:
“Nazlı Ilıcak and Ahmet Altan have been released… THEY HAVE SPENT SOME TIME IN JAIL
“They are the reason why Ali Tatar, Kuddusi Okkır, Türkan Saylan, Cem Çakmak, Soner Polat, Kaşif Kozinoğlu, Emcet Olcaytu, Murat Özenal CONTINUE TO BE BURIED BENEATH THE GROUND”
When Ahmet Altan was the editor-in-chief at Taraf newspaper, it ran many inflammatory headlines. One said, ‘Fatih Mosque was going to be bombed’, suggesting it was a target of a shadowy part of the Turkish army in order to trigger a coup.
Taraf also published misleading news, such as claiming journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were ‘not arrested because of journalism’. Yet in reality they had been detained for revealing how FETÖ had orchestrated the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, and had taken over Turkey’s deep state.
Ilıcak was behind similar types of propaganda and smear campaigns through her columns at Sabah newspaper and as a political commentator on television.
Şık, who is now an MP for HDP, while recognising that people were “uncomfortable” with the release of Altan given his past behaviour, called on people to resist becoming like those they are fighting against.
Retired Major-General Ahmet Yavuz, who was falsely jailed for 18 years following the Balyoz trial before the case was quashed in 2015, said of Altan and Ilıcak:
“These people [Altan and Ilıcak] were not tried for the actual crimes they committed. The crimes they committed, they did so in collusion with the government. They were already benefiting from the platform that the government had created for them.
“I would be upset if they were tried for their actual crimes and released, because they have committed great crimes against humanity…against the [Turkish] Republic and the nation, but they have not been tried for these.”