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Turkey: Life sentences for journalists are “unprecedented assault on free speech”, say UN and OSCE experts

Turkey: Assault on free speech

19 February 2018

GENEVA (16 February 2018) – Life sentences imposed on six journalists today by a court in Turkey are an unparalleled attack on freedom of expression and on the media, two international experts on media freedom have said in a joint statement.

“These harsh sentences are an unacceptable and unprecedented assault on freedom of expression and on the media in Turkey,” said David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Harlem Désir, the Representative on Media Freedom for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“These prison terms represent an unparalleled level of suppression of dissenting voices in Turkey.

“We call on Turkey to reverse the decision and release the journalists. Imprisonment for journalism not only silences the journalists, but it also deprives Turkish citizens of their right to access pluralistic views on issues that can directly affect their lives.”

Journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Fevzi Yazici, Yakup Simsek and Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul received life sentences at the hearing in Istanbul, after being found guilty of taking part in the unsuccessful coup attempt in 2016. They received additional 15-year terms for allegedly committing crimes on behalf of the Gülen movement, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey.  

“The court decision condemning journalists to life in prison for their work, without presenting substantial proof of their involvement in the coup attempt or ensuring a fair trial, critically threatens journalism and with it the remnants of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey,” said Mr. Kaye.

Mr. Désir said: “The magnitude of these punishments, and the fact that the court failed to implement a Constitutional Court ruling ordering Mr Altan’s release, raise fundamental questions about the ability of the judiciary to uphold the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.”

The Constitutional Court ruling, made on 11 January, ordered that Mr. Altan and another journalist, Mr. Sahin Alpay, should be freed from pre-trial detention on the grounds that their detention was disproportionate and infringed their rights to liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

The two experts described this binding ruling as a landmark decision that could positively affect other trials of journalists. However, lower courts have refused to implement it, saying the Constitutional Court had exceeded its authority.

Mr. Kaye has previously submitted a third party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights on the cases of 10 Turkish journalists, including Mr. Alpay and three of the defendants jailed today.


Mr. David Kaye is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

As OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Mr. Harlem Désir
observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. He provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more on Twitter @OSCE_RFoM and Facebook.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
Azin Tadjdini (+41 22 917 9400 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence – (+ 41 22 917 9826 /
[email protected]

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: