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Turkish court today sentenced six defendants, five of them journalists and media workers, to life in prison over terrorism charges for allegedly having played a role in the failed coup of July 15, 2016.

International Press Institute (IPI) condemned the verdicts – the first time journalists in Turkey have been convicted in connection with the coup attempt – as a gross violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

Among those sentenced are Turkish academic and journalist Mehmet Altan and his brother, author Ahmet Altan. The Altan brothers are accused of having given “subliminal messages” on Turkish television the night before the coup. Last month, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ordered Mehmet Altan’s release after finding that his rights under the Turkish Constitution had been violated. However, Istanbul’s 26th High Criminal Court refused to release him, claiming that the Constitutional Court had “overstepped its jurisdiction”.

The other four persons sentenced are well-known journalist Nazli Ilıcak, media workers Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı and lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül. All were accused of having prior knowledge of the coup attempt. All six defendants, who spent over a year in pre-trial detention, were convicted on the specific charges of trying to “abolish the constitution” and “overthrow the government”. A seventh defendant, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, was acquitted of all charges.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said the convictions confirmed the drastic decline of the rule of law in Turkey.

“The fact that a court today sentenced Mehmet Altan to life in prison despite a Constitutional Court ruling ordering his release is the height of absurdity and shows that Turkey’s judicial system is unable to protect the rights of journalists”, he said.

“The defendants in this case, including the Altan brothers, did not receive a fair hearing and their convictions must be urgently appealed and overturned.”