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Turkey releases journalists convicted of aiding terror group

ISTANBUL (AP) — A court on Monday convicted two journalists of aiding a terror group but ordered both released from prison, where they had served more than three years in a case that has severely tested press freedom in Turkey.

The court in Istanbul convicted Ahmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak of aiding the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish officials have identified as the mastermind of a failed coup in 2016. The charge was aiding a terror network without being members of that network.

The journalists — along with Altan's brother, columnist Mehmet Altan, and two others — were previously sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2018 for attempting to overthrow the government. The Supreme court overturned those convictions in July.

After Monday's retrial and new convictions, Ahmet Altan was sentenced to 10 ½ years and Ilicak to nearly nine. Mehmet Altan was acquitted of charges of attempting to overthrow the government. He previously had been convicted on that charge and sentenced to life but was released from prison in June 2018 pending his appeal.

The Altans and Ilicak were among hundreds of thousands investigated and tens of thousands arrested and charged for being allied with Gulen and the deadly attempted coup during a widespread crackdown that drew international criticism and charges that officials were targeting press freedom. About 30,000 remain jailed.

"The convictions of Ahmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak are shocking and the sentences imposed on them are outrageous," Amnesty International said in a statement. The non-governmental human rights group said it welcomed the decision to release the prisoners after a trial it called "politically motivated."

The court released the journalists on the condition that they regularly report to police and don't leave the country. Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 157 out of 180 countries in its index on press freedom.

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