A Turkish appeals court upheld on Tuesday aggravated life sentences for six defendants, including Nazlı Ilıcak, Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet who were accused of serving as the media arm of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) that is blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people across Turkey.
The remaining defendants sentenced for attempting to overthrow the constitution are Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül. The six were sentenced in February on charges of aiding FETÖ plotters and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
They had appealed to the high court for their release, but Istanbul's 2nd Appeal Court upheld their sentence.
Mehmet Altan was released from prison in June, but his sentence was also upheld on Tuesday, after a penal court rejected the constitutional court's request for his release.
All six are serving aggravated life sentences, which means they are not eligible for parole and cannot be included in future amnesty decisions
Ilıcak and the Altan brothers, who were fierce advocates for the terrorist group, are accused of calling for the coup to take place and of intimate ties with the putschists and senior figures of the terrorist group. Two days before the coup attempt, the three suspects were discussing a potential coup on a TV show. Ilıcak later defended the program by saying that the TV show did not imply any coup.
Ilıcak, a staple of Turkish media for decades, had been a staunch defender of FETÖ in her later years, claiming it was not a terrorist organization. She defended the group all the way up until the coup attempt. In her first testimony after her arrest, Ilıcak said she had realized FETÖ was a terrorist group.
Once approving of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) policies against the military's dominance in Turkish politics, the liberal-leaning Altan brothers, sons of prominent left-wing journalist Çetin Altan, became fierce critics of the government in later years, often appearing on Gülenist TV channels.
Ahmet Altan is a writer and journalist who worked for Hürriyet and Milliyet before founding Taraf, a newspaper that had been a mouthpiece for FETÖ before it was closed down last year. Altan, who was the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf daily, was arrested on Sept. 22, 2016 over a speech he made at a TV show aired on the Gülenist-linked Can Erzincan TV on July 14, 2016, a day before the July 15 coup attempt. In his speech, Altan had implied that a coup was imminent. Mehmet Altan, a prominent academic, joined the same show and gave similar messages.
The now-defunct Taraf was known as a mouthpiece for Gülenists both during the time of the notorious sham trials, including the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup plot cases targeting officers of the Turkish Armed Forces, perpetrated by the infiltrators of the terror group in the judiciary and police and after the state launched a crackdown on Gülenists in 2013.
The terrorist group is accused of masterminding the foiled coup attempt with the aid of its infiltrators in the military who allegedly carried out a plan personally approved by Fetullah Gülen, the U.S.-based leader of the terrorist group. Prosecutors say Ilıcak, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan had contacts with five civilians captured at Akıncı Air Base, which served as a command center for the putschists on July 15, 2016. The civilians were Adil Öksüz, Kemal Batmaz, Hakan Çiçek, Nurettin Oruç and Harun Biniş. After Gülen, Öksüz is the most wanted figure in the coup cases. A theology lecturer by profession and a senior FETÖ figure, Öksüz is accused of planning the coup attempt in meetings with generals loyal to the terrorist group. He was controversially released by judges believed to be linked to FETÖ after his initial capture at the base and then disappeared. Batmaz, another civilian found at the base after the coup attempt, is accused of being an accomplice of Öksüz.
Yazıcı was the former visual director of Zaman daily, the main Gülenist publication, whereas Şimşek was the marketing director of the same newspaper. Zaman was assigned trustees by a court order in March 2016 over its ties to the terrorist group and shut down in July 2016.
Özşengül, a former Police Academy lecturer, claimed in a live TV program of a U.S.-based Gülenist TV broadcaster on the night of July 15 that police forces would not resist against the coup attempt. He was a frequent participant of TV shows by Gülen-linked broadcasters, including now-defunct Samanyolu, on issues of police and security. During a hearing of the media arm trial, Özşengül also testified that his father was a torturer working in the ranks of the police during the Sep. 12, 1980 military coup.
The defendants were arrested following the coup attempt. The case is the first of its kind for journalists linked to the coup. Ten other defendants in the case will be separately tried as they still remain at large. Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of FETÖ mouthpiece Zaman, former journalist Emre Uslu and writer Tuncay Opçin, all known for their barrage of pro-FETÖ propaganda on social media, are among the fugitive suspects in the case and face life imprisonment on coup charges. Uslu, Opçin and Dumanlı were spotted in the United States following their disappearance after arrest warrants were issued in their names.
The terrorist group, which faces a new barrage of trials after the July 15 coup attempt, its latest bid to seize power through its infiltrators, is accused of running media outlets to vindicate its actions and orchestrating defamation campaigns against the group's critics.
The terrorist group once wielded considerable clout in the media where it ran a broadcaster. The group owned several TV stations, published newspapers and magazines that disseminated the group's propaganda and had several radio stations. Most were closed down as part of the crackdown on FETÖ and were handed to trustees as the legal process against FETÖ members got underway. The media was key for Gülen to spread his messages to followers. Gülen, who faces extradition from the U.S., is already implicated in a string of criminal cases including those on the coup attempt carried out by his followers in the military and sham trials against his critics. Since December 2013, when FETÖ emerged as the perpetrator of two coup attempts, FETÖ has been regarded as a security threat. Prosecutors claim that the group's infiltrators in law enforcement, the judiciary, bureaucracy and the military had waged a long-running campaign to topple the government.
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