Appearing before an Istanbul court yesterday, Ahmet Altan, accused of terror links, denied that he and his brother, a writer, were linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the group blamed for July 15 coup attempt last year.
Altan was the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf newspaper closely aligned with the Gülenists. He and his brother Mehmet Altan were detained a few months after the coup attempt, in an investigation into the "media arm" of the terrorist group. The Altan brothers and the journalist Nazlı Ilıcak - who are among the 17 defendants in Altan's case - were discussing a potential coup on a TV show only two days before the putsch bid.
He also denied his contacts with senior FETÖ figures and said he only had two phone calls with Alaeddin Kaya, the former owner of FETÖ's mouthpiece Zaman daily. He also dismissed his link to Önder Aytaç, a fugitive member of the terrorist group and said he was actually the person who fired Aytaç from Taraf where he had penned articles. On his connection to Said Sefa who ran a news website linked to Gülenists, Altan said Sefa has not been convicted of membership to a terrorist group. Altan acknowledged he was "friends" with Ekrem Dumanlı, the fugitive executive of Zaman, and said it was only a personal relationship.
The Altan brothers, who were fierce advocates for the terrorist group, are accused of calling for the coup, and of having intimate ties to the putschists and senior figures of the terrorist group. Prosecutors are asking for sentences varying between 15 years to life for the coup charges and lesser charges related to being members of a terrorist group. They face life in prison if convicted. These defendants were arrested following the coup attempt, though the majority of suspects still remain at large. A total of 10 suspects are still on the run, while one suspect was released pending trial. The case is the first of its kind for journalists linked to the coup and more such trials will follow in the coming months.
Along with the three defendants, Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of the FETÖ mouthpiece Zaman newspaper, former journalist Emre Uslu and writer Tuncay Opçin, all known for their barrage of pro-FETÖ propaganda on social media, face life in prison for coup charges. Uslu, Opçin and Dumanlı were spotted in the U.S. where FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen resides following their disappearance after their arrest warrants were issued. Prosecutors say Ilıcak, the Altan brothers, Osman Özsoy, Şemsettin Efe, Emre Uslu and other defendants contacted the five "civilians" captured at Akıncı, a military base used as the putschists' command center on July 15, 2016.