Turkey should immediately release Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay


Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan

Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan

Turkey should immediately implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and release the veteran journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay without delay, a coalition of nongovernmental groups said on 23 March 2018. Furthermore, Turkey must ensure that domestic remedies for human rights violations are effective, in particular by ensuring the urgent review of all cases of journalists and writers currently pending before its Constitutional Court.

The organizations, which had intervened as third parties in the cases before the court, included PEN International, ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, European Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute, International Senior Lawyers Project and Reporters Without Borders. The coalition welcomed the judgments announced on March 20, 2018. The rulings are the first by the court in the cases of journalists arrested and detained on charges in relation to the failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. They set an important precedent for the other cases of 154 detained journalists in Turkey.

“The Turkish government must take action to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement. The ongoing trials are a serious breach of human rights and freedom of expression by the government. Turkey must cease its judicial harassment of journalists, academics and lawyers,” said Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy of Index on Censorship said.

In its two judgments, the European Court found violations of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression. The court made clear that criticism of governments should not attract criminal charges since, in addition to pre-trial detention, this would inevitably have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and would silence dissenting voices.

“We welcome these rulings, in particular the European Court’s recognition that a state of emergency must not be abused as a pretext for limiting freedom of expression,” said Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International.

While acknowledging the threat posed to Turkey by the attempted coup, the court crucially noted that “the existence of a ‘public emergency threatening the life of the nation’ must not serve as a pretext for limiting freedom of political debate, which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”

The European Court has also found that the journalists’ detention was unlawful under the right to liberty protected by Article 5 (1) of the European Convention. The European Court endorsed the January 2018 ruling of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which held that there was not sufficient evidence to keep the defendants in detention and ordered their release.

The judgment further sharply criticized the lower courts for refusing to carry out the Constitutional Court’s decision. In particular, the applicants’ continued pre-trial detention raised serious doubts as to the ability of the domestic legal system in providing an effective remedy for human rights violations, stating: “For another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications runs counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty.”

“We welcome the court’s finding that the right to liberty of the applicants was violated,” said Caroline Stockford, Turkey Advocacy Coordinator for the International Press Institute. “The Court rightly criticised the refusal by the lower domestic courts to implement the Turkish Constitutional Court’s decisions and to release Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay.”

The European Court decided not to examine the applicants’ complaint that the detention of the applicants was politically motivated, under Article 18 of the convention.

“In deciding not to rule on Article 18, the European Court dodges an important question at the core of this litigation, which is whether Turkey’s prosecutions of journalists just for doing their work is part of a larger campaign to crack down on independent journalism?”, said Torner.

“The decision stated that ‘the investigating authorities had been unable to demonstrate any factual basis’that indicate that both journalists had committed the offenses with which he was charged’. The Court repeats what we have been saying with our affiliates for years to Turkish authorities that journalism is not a crime and journalists, like writers or academicians in the country, must not be prosecuted for their work or opinions,” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary.

What the judgments mean for other cases

The judgments contain some important statements of principle on unlawful detention and freedom of expression. In particular, the European Court emphasised that it is not permissible to prosecute individuals on the basis of expression that is critical of the government.

However, in practice, the judgments also imply that the European Court will wait for the Constitutional Court to rule on the other pending cases of Turkish journalists before proceeding to its own review. This is because the European Court still considers the Constitutional Court an effective remedy in general.

Although the European Court was prepared to accept the length of time the Constitutional Court took to review these cases, the judgment is effectively putting the Constitutional Court on notice, saying that it will keep the situation under review and that it cannot continue taking this long to decide on cases.

The coalition repeats its call for the immediate implementation of these two judgments and for the release of Mehmet Altan from prison and Şahin Alpay from house arrest.

“These judgments are an important affirmation of the right to free expression and clearly state that the state of emergency is not a good enough reason to hold journalists and writers in detention for what they say,” said Gabrielle Guillemin, Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19. “The Turkish authorities must now immediately release them both and the Turkish courts should apply these principles to the many other cases of detained journalists in Turkey,” she added.

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Mehmet Altan: The law or law of the enemy?

Mehmet AltanMehmet Altan is an academic economist, journalist, and author of over 25 books. Altan, who is in detention, stands accused of “attempting to overthrow the government” and “attempting to eradicate the parliament” and they face three counts of life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Altan, who testified on 19 September through the judicial teleconferencing system from Silivri Prison, mainly addressed the court. The next hearing in his case will take place on 13 November.

Honourable Judges,

The fact that I was arrested on the basis of a charge that is not described in the Turkish Criminal Code – i.e., is not a crime – and that such a legal scandal was then supported by a Criminal Judgeship of Peace, demonstrate from the outset that my imprisonment for over a year has nothing to do with the law.

My imprisonment pending trial on 22 September 2016 — after 12 days in police custody — based on a sentence in an unfounded, untrue news report published as part of an effort to manipulate
public opinion, and the fact that the Criminal Judge of Peace took that same sentence and made it a ground for ordering my pre-trial detention solidified, confirmed and documented this scandalous

And the indictment that finally came out after eight months of imprisonment is a shameful document, which is, contrary to the clear and explicit decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ Assembly of Criminal Chamber, based on “presumption” and built on an unattested, one-sentence claim.

It was not just the fact that the court accepted this indictment that surprised me. It was also the interim ruling of the court issued after I presented my four-hour defence statement at the first hearing, and numerous sloppily written, rubber stamp decisions of the Criminal Judgeships of Peace that are against the Criminal Procedure Law, which have been handed down as a result of reviews of the case to order the continuation of my imprisonment and subsequent similar decisions.

Even though I have personally witnessed and seen that the law is nowhere to be found, I still wish, as if the law still exists, to underline once again a few points involving violations, which are too grave to be acceptable from the viewpoint of the law and of which I was a victim.

I am on trial facing three aggravated life sentences on the charges of attempting to overthrow the government, the constitutional order and Parliament over three sentences written in the indictment in bold capital letters that I uttered during a television program airing every Thursday in which we used to discuss and comment on the major developments of the week as
journalists and political commentators, as part of our freedom of expression. Unbelievable. But unfortunately, this is the case.

The long and poorly constructed sentence at the end of page 189 of the indictment constitutes the basis for the illogical and unlawful narrative of this whole accusation. Looking closely at this sentence, one can instantly see how the law is slaughtered.

I would like to emphasize the following before moving to that sentence: There were three topics for discussion on the television program that aired on 14 July 2016. The first was Meral Akşener’s attempt to convene a congress of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and its likely effects on politics and parliamentary dynamics in the run-up to the 2019 elections; the second one was Law No. 6722 on changes on the Turkish Armed Forces Personnel Law and Some Other Laws that had just been published in the Official Gazette; and, the third topic was Ahmet Altan’s newly published novel on the Committee of Union and Progress era, “Dying is Easier than Loving.”

The law that was published in the Official Gazette that morning gave the military powers that were once provided in the abolished Protocol on Cooperation for Security and Public Order (EMASYA). Discussions during the program focused on the risks that would result from moving away from the constitutional order by creating “fait accompli” situations, within the context of the three said topics.

What is more, the 2019 elections are repeatedly emphasized during discussions in the program. Anyone who takes a look at page 187 of the indictment can and does easily see this.

Again, on page 185, there is this quote: “If 50 AKP deputies say, ‘we are joining Meral Akşener in creating a new political party…’” Where is the “coup” here? What coup?

But the prosecutor reaches unlawful and untrue conclusions from that program that would baffle any jurist, or, honestly, anyone with a decent ability to reason. To be more precise, he thinks he reaches those conclusions. As far as the law is concerned, this is a document that will
go down in history as scandalous.

This is the beginning of that fabulous sentence: “… the coup attempt that they knew about …”

How do we know about the coup? There is no proof, no evidence provided.

In addition, is it a crime to know about a coup attempt? It is not.

The very recent decision of the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, handed down in a 15 July coup case, answers this question.

With the Supreme Court’s conclusion stated in the decision with register number 2017/1443 and judgment number 2017/4758 that: “Knowledge that an act is to be committed has no bearing on participation… The doctrine endorses the same view. The subject’s knowledge about the act is not sufficient to conclude presence of the will to participate. At the most,
offences in relation to liability stemming from not reporting what he/she knows or participation in preparatory acts may transpire,” the poor, unsubstantiated, feeble indictment has entirely collapsed.

Because the starting point of the indictment is that, based on discussions during the television program, we knew about the coup beforehand. According to the prosecutor, if we say there could be a coup, then we must have jointly participated in the coup attempt with the putschists. Because how else can we say there might be a coup?

So, an academic for 40 years, a writer and a journalist who has been writing about the coups since 1990 cannot anticipate or foresee that there would be severe consequences for abandoning the law, right? Assuming that decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals 16th Criminal Chamber is also ignored, just like the law has been, why is [columnist] Fuat Uğur, who insistently wrote way before the coup attempt on 2 April 2016 that a coup was to take place, not subject to any investigation, if it is a crime to know about the coup beforehand?

Why does the prosecutor not prove that “we knew about the coup,” by offering concrete evidence or documents? He cannot, because it does not exist. The claim that we were talking about the coming coup attempt is nothing but a big lie, an effort to create a false public perception about us.

The falsehood that “they knew about the coup” is a flawed, invalid, shaky ground on which the prosecutor attempts to build the whole narrative and unlawfulness of the indictment.

Can people be oppressed and their lives be messed around with by throwing around presumptive guesses, lying, making up accusations? Of course not.

The Supreme Court of Appeals’ Assembly of Criminal Chamber decision dated 19 April 1993 states that “reaching a conclusion on the basis of assumptions, estimates is certainly against the purpose of criminal procedure.”

Is the case law of the supreme courts binding on the judicial system or not?

I wish to believe that it is.

The prosecutor’s opinionated sentences continue: “That there is a system of political and societal chaos which allegedly constituted the reason for the act of the perpetrators who participated through use of violence…”

Let’s stop here for a minute. The opposite is stated in discussions during the program. The discussions are out there for everyone to see and hear. It is stated persistently and repeatedly that creating “fait accompli” situations and departures from fundamental principles of the rule of law, as in the case of EMASYA, would disrupt the legitimate order and the
politicians are warned along these lines.

Let me cite the following remarks I made during the program so as to prove my point more clearly: “…believing that you will take over a state by committing a crime with a mentality not abiding by the law… If that state is going to continue to exist, then this is recklessness… Because when you want to take over the state, you want to destroy a metabolism. And that metabolism has its own [defensive] reflex… You cannot destroy these. If you do, then the state and society would be destroyed in the process, too.”

How can such an empathic rejection of both military and civilian putschism be seen as putschism?

It is very difficult, even in circumstances where there is a strong malicious intent and even for people who are not bound by the law, to make such a claim.

I would like to ask you, too, Honourable Panel, isn’t that so? And I get to the last part of that long, incomprehensible sentence: “… it has been understood that they are principal perpetrators of the acts of rebellion committed with the aim of creating such an atmosphere in line with goals of the organization, that they participated through speech and propaganda, which are the precursor and an inseparable part of the term “use of force” that is the sub-element of the element of the movement.”

Excuse me, but I’d like to say “well, well, well.”

Getting to putschism involving “use of force” from “exercise of freedom of expression” during a television program could be quite challenging even for skilful and talented magicians. And yet, it comes true in our indictment.

But I would like to continue this sad comedy from the legal perspective. The only way to victimize people with disliked opinions and critical views as “terrorism suspects” is this art of magic. Because the prosecutor concludes this unsubstantiated, unlawful and strange scenario with a demand for my punishment under articles 309, 311 and 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK).

And what are these articles about?

Attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament, and the government “by the use of force and violence.”

Yes, “by the use of force and violence.” The law clearly and undisputedly requires the condition of the use of force and violence, leaving no room for any interpretation or legal maneuvering.

Is that all?

It also requires an “attempt” having been made.

Being charged with offences stipulated in articles 309, 311 and 312 requires “the use of force and violence” and “making an attempt.” The law does not talk about television programs.

Where is the use of force?

Where is the use of violence?

Where is the attempt?

Isn’t this an extremely exaggerated, extremely unlawful and even extremely ill-considered situation?

What is more, the term “threat” that existed in the earlier version of the articles 309, 311 and 312 was replaced with “violence” in 2007 “in order to emphasize more clearly that the exercise of constitutionally protected rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly cannot be deemed to be acts in violation of the Constitution and to remove any doubts that could arise in that regard.”

The proposal for the amendment was tabled by then Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek, while it was enacted by across-the-board support from the AKP and the CHP.

And the part in quotations is from the justification of the proposed amendment. Then how is it that I have been unbelievably deprived of my liberty for over a year?

The indictment in a case involving the raid by putschists on the Istanbul Greater Municipality, use of weapons and people being martyred has also been accepted by your court. Don’t you think it is odd that armed putschists standing trial in a case involving the murdering of people — those who “take lives” — and I are accused of the same crime?

That “the use of force and violence” is an element of the crime of putschism is stated once again in the very recent decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 16th Criminal Chamber, in addition to the already very clear articles of the TCK.

Isn’t the meaning sufficiently clear when the decision states, “It is obvious that what is meant by the use of force as required by the law is [the use of] physical/material force”?

Isn’t this clear enough when it says, “In terms of the referenced law, the term immaterial force is a legacy of Fascism, and, in terms of the Turkish Criminal Justice, it is a legacy of the Supreme Council of Justice, which was established in the aftermath of the 27 May 1960 coup for the purpose of putting those who were in power on trial and was looking for excuses to try members of the legitimate political government”?

Isn’t the following conclusion clear enough? “In this respect, protection of the state’s existence from dangers and physical hostile movements is required by a necessity and the element of the government, which gives the state its state qualities, constitutes the most important portion of this protection. But in democracies, this protection never allows punishment of opinions.”

As a person who was made a putschist over two columns and a television speech and whose liberty has been seized for more than a year, I would like to ask the panel of judges trying me; I know you will object, but it’s my right to ask:

Are the laws and the case law of supreme courts, which set out a oadmap for 15 July coup offences, binding or not?

If they are, then you have to give my freedom back to me at once. The decision is up to you, esteemed panel. The decision will be yours. The elements of “hierarchical loyalty and a chain of command within an organizational structure” are lacking, and no one can even claim
they exist. There is no evidence, but there is a fantastical assumption, a fictitious narrative, and the coup charges.

Besides, it is also beyond comprehension that, while all these legal facts are out there, I am being associated under Article 314/2 of the TCK with a terrorist organization which seeks to establish a theocratic state, with which I have no “unity in terms of actions and opinions,” and of which I am not a member, based on my televised comments.

While it is evident that the “element of continuity” is lacking, and this is stated even in the indictment, how can TCK articles 220/6 and 314 and, from there, 309, 311 and 312 be applied? Is this legally possible? I would have wished that these were acknowledged and fixed during the process by which the court accepted the indictment or by the esteemed prosecutor at the courtroom during the first hearing.

But the interim ruling dated June 23 and the monthly reviews of detention have produced the opposite of what I had expected.

Wouldn’t it be more fair to examine whether or not “aggravated life sentence,” which requires the presence of “the use of force and violence” and “physical attempt,” can be sought for three short sentences that have been uttered during a television program and do not constitute a crime, instead of the cliché excuses that we now have memorized, such as: “The quality and nature of the attributed offences”

“That the offences attributed to the suspects are deemed to be the ground for incarceration…”

“That the crimes attributed are among the catalogue crimes stipulated in Article 100/3-a.11…”

“That the lower and upper limits of punishment envisaged by the law for the crime attributed to the suspects raise the suspicion that they might

Provided that the law does exist, isn’t it too risky that a person is deprived of his or her liberty with such ease, while all the laws are out there and the views of legal authorities and justifications for the laws are that clear?

Besides, who will be responsible for unpleasant, irremediable consequences, say, about health, that could arise after a summer spent in prison since 23 June?

Will it be those members of the judiciary who levelled charges of perpetrating a coup by “using force and violence” out of comments made during a television program and those who remained silent in the face of it?

Will it be those who destroy the law by spreading fear?


Esteemed panel, I would also like to briefly touch upon two points that have been persistently stated in the interim ruling and in decisions
handed down after regular reviews of the case file. One of them is the claim that “tangible evidence indicating strong suspicion that the crime has been committed” exists. The second one is “suspicion that the suspects might flee.”

Esteemed judges,

At first, I, as a person who was imprisoned and now faces three aggravated life sentences because of a few sentences uttered during a television program, got very curious about what those pieces of “tangible evidence” might be when I saw the phrase, which has been written on identical documents and is responsible for my continued incarceration for over a year and for which no legal explanation has been offered, on the Court’s interim ruling and the subsequent decisions issued after regular monthly reviews.

Still, I would like to respond to, and, in the meantime, briefly recall and refute once again, the “allegations,” which are presented as “evidence”
in the indictment and none of which constitutes a crime.

The 247-page indictment devotes two pages to me, one of which consists of an article of mine.

The lie included in Nurettin Veren’s statement dated 24 October 2016 and cited on page 215 of the indictment that I had “frequent” contacts with Fethullah Gülen via Alaeddin Kaya is refuted a few pages back, to be more precise, three pages back, on page 212, by the prosecutor himself.
That I met with Alaeddin Kaya only once, on 28 September 2008, is indicated on a diagram included in the indictment. This tangible evidence also shows how reliable the witness, Nurettin Veren, is.

Besides, Alaeddin Kaya states that at that time he was the owner of Star daily newspaper, of which I was then the chief columnist, and 24 TV. The claim about the six one-dollar bills found in my home similarly becomes meaningless within the same sentence that lays out the claim.

The indictment emphasized that five one-dollar bills were found in the drawer of the desk in my study together with other foreign bills that I
used during my travels.

There is a vain effort to attribute significance to a torn, out-of-circulation one-dollar bill of F-series, forgotten from past travels in a worn-out
women’s wallet inside a wardrobe in the hallway, as you can also see here today. But this is what this indictment is about anyway.

The bill was not kept in a separate, special place; it is obvious that it is nothing but old, torn and phased-out leftover currency, like the other foreign changes found in my room.

In addition, this effort to incriminate me and to create misperceptions is also debunked in previous pages of the indictment itself.

First, why and for what purpose would I keep the F-series one-dollar bill, given that I am not a member of the organization? What would its meaning be?

Honestly, shouldn’t an indictment be more serious?

Secondly, keeping a one-dollar bill had become more dangerous that keeping a murder weapon in the aftermath of the 15 July coup attempt. Why would I keep my one-dollar bills if I had anything to hide? I have explained these at length in my defence statement.

In fact, looking at the indictment’s own assessments, the inclusion of this one-dollar bill claim as if it has a significance looks pointless as well. Because, according to the indictment’s own account, F-series one-dollar bills are handed to FETÖ member students.

So, isn’t it an exercise in futility to talk of a torn one-dollar bill leftover from an old trip as evidence despite this assessment?

The most unpleasant thing about being wronged is having to respond to irrelevant, meaningless, insignificant accusations that do not constitute a crime.

I will file a complaint over this one-dollar bill. This torn, out-of-circulation banknote leftover from a past trip has been disclosed to the media in violation of the principle of the confidentiality of investigation.

In addition, a video record of it was made with a police officer covering the rip by placing his finger on it.

I would like to file a complaint on this matter.

Is the purpose to find the truth, to manipulate public perceptions about those who hold critical views, or to hurt the reputation of people by disseminating dubious news about them?

Esteemed Court,

A third allegation concerns the fact that I was not subject to any criminal investigation even though I gave a conference at AKABE Education and Cultural Centre.

Have you seen an accusation like this before?

But I still would like to expose its senselessness by responding to it, just like all the other irrational, senseless and unlawful allegations. I have learnt that the AKABE Foundation had a rivalry, if not outright hostility, with the Gülen Movement thanks to this “allegation” in the indictment.

Therefore, the fact that I gave the said conference there is enough on its own to prove that I am an autonomous, independent intellectual. But I will not make do with this. The judges who oversaw the Quds Army Terrorist Organization case are the same judges who authorized the unlawful tapping of my phone. I sued them and this is all in the file. I then saw that they were put on trial on FETÖ charges.

The fourth allegation stems from an article that I wrote seven years ago, entitled “The Meaning of Sledgehammer.” The article emphasizes the significance of democracy and the rule of law. It has never been subject to any criminal investigation.

Besides, the Sledgehammer case is still ongoing. The indictment itself states this.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım talks about the Sledgehammer case at every opportunity as well. I am ready to send the prime minister’s most recent statement on this matter to the prosecutor who drafted the indictment.

A fifth matter concerns another article that I wrote on 20 July 2016. I have explained in my defence statement how the article was validated in many respects. And, again, there has been no criminal investigation into this article either.

That opinions, views and articles are being used to prop up criminal charges and presented as terrorism activities is saddening for Turkey.

It also demonstrates the true nature of the current period.

Oppressing intellectuals and presenting these people as terrorists and putschists in order to destroy freedom of expression and freedom of thought are shameful endeavours that will benefit no one.

Lastly, Historical Traffic Search (HTS) records have been used to support the accusations in the indictment.

Throughout the nine-year period between 26 July 2006 and 16 December 2015, records of phone communication with nine people selected out of thousands of conversations are presented as evidence of crime, disregarding the constitutional right to communicate.

Despite this, I would like to respond to this allegation, too, and show once again how hollow the indictment with which I have been deprived of my liberty is.

I would like to state that I twice texted one of these nine people (Halit Esender) in 2009, that I called another one (Muhammet Günay) once in 2010, and that I called a third one (Ali Bayram) three times in the years 2010 and 2012.

A fourth person (Hidayet Karaca) called me twice in 2009. The fifth one (Önder Aytaç) sent texts to notify me about the articles he wrote. When he stopped writing, he stopped texting as well after 2008.

The sixth (Alaeddin Kaya) called twice, in 2008 and 2009. The seventh (Cemal Uşak) called seven times in nine years. The date of the last recorded call is November 2013.

There are more calls and texts with the eighth and ninth people (Harun Tokalı and Mustafa Yeşil).

The last incoming call recorded took place in 28 January 2014. From then on, there has been no record of phone communication.

How can the prosecutor who drafted the indictment allege presence of “links with the putschists” based on legal phone conversations the most recent of which was made 2.5 years before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt? How can the courts take such illogical accounts seriously and how can I be in jail for over a year thanks to these incongruities?

Let me add this, too: All of these people were media executives working for legitimate institutions operating under legal supervision of the State of the Republic of Turkey. In addition, they were not subject to any criminal investigation during this period of infrequent phone contacts; on the contrary, they were quite respected, especially in government circles.

I would like to ask: is this the “tangible evidence” deemed to be the grounds for keeping me in prison?

Esteemed Court,

Finally, there is the following phrase included almost at will in every official document issued since I was first arrested by the police and used by the Court as well in its interim ruling and reviews of the case file: “That the lower and upper limits of punishment envisaged by the law for the crime attributed to the suspects raise the suspicion that they might flee.”

It seems the only reason for levelling unsubstantiated coup charges based on remarks made during a routine television program on political developments of the week, demanding aggravated life sentences under articles 309, 311 and 312 and invoking Article 220/6 is to keep us in prison, citing the risk we might flee given the “definition of the crime”.

Otherwise, how can an indictment which demonstrates no “continuity,” no “unity of opinion and action”, no “hierarchical loyalty”, no “chain of command within an organizational structure”, and which makes no attempt to substantiate its claims of the presence of these elements, level such charges?

Repeated references to “flight risk” as if there were a serious legal account, evidence and proof, and even though we are faced with an indictment that is legally scandalous, might be understandable as a part of the whole process that is transpiring; but aren’t they too incomprehensible for a serious trial?

Besides, as I have stated in my first defence statement, my arrest, pre-trial detention and imprisonment for more than a year now have happened after signals from non-judicial circles.

For instance, that I would be arrested was first reported on a Twitter account called “Başkentçi” on 17 July 2016.

I have never been involved in an illegitimate endeavour throughout my life. I would not even lift a finger, let alone flee.

As a victim of this process, I, too, have had my share of this unlawfulness because I am defending democracy.

I demand that the Court take action — file a complaint, at least — in order to expose the extra-judicial intervention targeting me and to find the people behind it by identifying the user of Başkentçi account and this report.

The same demand applies for the false story aimed at manipulating public perception that was published in Sabah daily newspaper on 23 August and alleged that we “talked about the coup attempt”.

This unfounded report, and the will behind it that wants to punish us, are still out there.

What is more, the Criminal Judge of Peace has ordered my imprisonment pending trial on the basis of a sentence in that report. The magnitude of the scandal that we went through becomes clearer as time passes.

Honourable Judges,

Lastly, I would like to remind you that many defendants facing charges similar to mine are being tried without being imprisoned, while some others have been released awaiting trial.

Do we, then, have an arbitrary situation?

If the purpose is to oppress, this is outside the law and there is nothing I would say.

But I still want to keep my faith in courts, the judiciary and the judicial bureaucracy.

I want to believe that they are fair, impartial, independent, objective and that they stand by the law.

The rest is up to those who sign decisions.

Index calls the re-arrest of novelist Ahmet Altan “arbitrary and cruel”

Turkish authorities re-arrested the internationally known Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan just one week after his release from more than three years in detention. Index on Censorship and 24 other NGOs say that his re-arrest, on 12 November, was an extraordinarily low blow in a case that has been marked by political interference and arbitrariness from start to finish.

In addition to ongoing violations of his right to freedom of expression, stemming from a prosecution that should never have been brought in the first place, his re-arrest is a form of judicial harassment. Altan should be immediately released and his conviction vacated, the organisations say.

On 4 November this year, Altan was convicted of “aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member” and sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail. He was released on bail pending appeal against conviction by the defence. Altan had originally been convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, that conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals who ordered a retrial on the lesser charge.

After the verdict in his retrial was handed down, the prosecutor appealed the decision to release him and on 12 November another panel of judges accepted this appeal and ruled that he should be re-arrested. Altan’s defence lawyers were not formally told of the court’s decision, but instead they learned about it through the pro-government media. Altan was detained later that evening and sent to Silivri Prison the following day.

Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits all arbitrary deprivation of liberty and the European Court of Human Rights has held that arbitrariness can arise where there has been an element of bad faith on the part of the authorities. Altan’s re-arrest and detention gives every appearance of being politically motivated, arbitrary, and incompatible with the right to liberty under Article 5. The organisations pointed to the following aspects of his re-arrest:

  • Despite having no right to do so, both the Turkish Presidency and Parliament sought to make representations arguing against the decision to release Altan – a move designed to put political pressure on the court.
  • The reasons the judge gave to cancel Altan’s release included that his activities “influenced many sympathisers through the news” and that “those who were interrogated for the same crime but fled the country have engaged in discourse and lobbying against our country’’ – grounds that are both unfounded and lack legitimacy as reasons to deprive someone of liberty. The judge further castigated Altan for refusing to show remorse for a crime he did not commit.
  • The judge also considered that Altan was a flight risk and issued a warrant for him to be re-arrested. However, the fact that the decision was almost immediately leaked to the media suggests that the authorities did not genuinely consider him to be a flight risk: Altan could have fled immediately upon hearing the news in the media. Instead, Altan was arrested at his home as he waited for the police. The next day, the court still sent him to prison custody insisting that he was a flight risk.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19 said: “The entire process of Ahmet Altan’s trial and retrial, including his prolonged detention, his release and then re-arrest on spurious grounds, has been completely arbitrary.

“The same court that convicted Altan of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ then oversaw a retrial and convicted him of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’, on the same evidence, which primarily consisted of Altan’s writings. That court then released him on bail and another court with no experience of the case ruled for his re-arrest.

“The case of Ahmet Altan is emblematic of the crackdown against writers and journalists in Turkey. Political revenge rather than justice has dominated the proceedings.”

Ahmet Altan’s case challenging his detention is still pending at the European Court of Human Rights. Other decisions by the ECtHR which are binding on Turkey and relate to prosecutions for free speech have had a significant impact on the outcome of the respective trials, including in the case of Ahmet’s brother, Mehmet Altan.

A ruling from the European Court setting out the scope and nature of the violations in Ahmet Altan’s case would likely have a decisive impact on his detention and the appeals process in his case.

We repeat our call for the Turkish authorities to release Ahmet Altan and vacate the conviction against him. The Turkish authorities should cease all judicial harassment of individuals on the basis of their political opinions and for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.



Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

Amnesty International

Articolo 21

Cartoonist’s Rights Network International (CRNI)

Danish PEN

English PEN

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

German PEN

Human Rights Watch


Index on Censorship

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Norwegian PEN

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

PEN America

PEN Canada

PEN International

P24, Platform for Independent Journalism

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish PEN

World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)



Ahmet Altan is an internationally known Turkish novelist who was convicted to life imprisonment without parole in February 2018 for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in an unfair trial that primarily relied on his writings and comments in the media. His case was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals in July, who recommended a retrial on equally bogus charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member”. On 4 November this year, Altan was convicted on the new charges and sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. He was released on bail pending appeal, after having served more than three years in detention, awaiting trial or appeal. On 12 November he was returned to prison, just one week after his release.

In its verdict on 4 November, the judge ruled that the parliament and the presidency could not intervene in the case as victims. Despite this, on 5 November parliament made an application challenging, inter alia, Altan’s release. It also made a separate application challenging the verdict.

On 6 November, the prosecutor also challenged the decision to release Altan on the grounds that there was a flight risk, despite the fact that a foreign travel ban had been put in place.

On 7 November, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No 26 reviewed the legal challenges and confirmed its previous decision to release him and the case file was referred to the Heavy Penal Court No 27 for review.

On 8 November, the presidency challenged the verdict, including the release of Altan, stating that all defendants should be charged on the basis of the initial indictment.

On 11 November, the presiding judge and prosecutor of Heavy Penal Court No 27 were changed.

On 12 November, the court, with a new judge and prosecutor, reviewed the legal decision of Court No 26 and issued a ruling. The ruling was not provided to the defence lawyers, but was leaked to the pro-government press which immediately reported that an arrest warrant had been issued. Ahmet Altan was re-arrested that evening, before the decision was communicated to him, or his lawyers, officially.

On 13 November, Altan was taken before the presiding judge at Heavy Penal Court No 27 to review his arrest and decide on his transfer to prison. The judge ruled that he should be returned to prison.

Note: ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the court during the first trial, which examined the coup-related charges and evidence against international standards on the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch also assessed the indictment and, like ARTICLE 19, found that the journalistic works cited expressed political opinions and did not incite or advocate violence. No new evidence was presented at the retrial on terrorism charges.

Free speech and human rights organisations call for Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and other journalists to be released

UPDATE: Index on Censorship is delighted to learn of the news that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak have been released from prison and that Mehmet Altan has been acquitted and released.

We nonetheless remain concerned that Altan and Ilıcak were convicted and are on probation, and that their co-defendants — Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül — remain in detention after having been convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

Ahead of the second hearing in the retrial of Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and four other journalists and media workers, Article 19 and 16 free speech and human rights organisations call for all detained defendants to be released and for the charges to be dropped. We believe that the charges against Altan and the other defendants are politically motivated and the case should never have gone to trial.  We believe that the new charges are also bogus, as no credible evidence has been presented linking the defendants to terrorism. 

Altan and Ilıcak have been in pre-trial detention for over three years on bogus charges. They were initially charged with sedition and are now being re-tried on terrorism charges following a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals. The final prosecutor’s opinion has been published ahead of the hearing on Monday 4 November, revealing that the prosecutor will ask for the judge to sentence significantly above the minimum required sentence for these offences. If the judge rules in line with the Prosecutor’s opinion, this will mean that the defendants will remain in detention during the appeals process which could take many more months. The on-going violation of their rights is a damning indictment of the state of Turkey’s judicial system, which has been placed under immense political pressure since the failed coup of July 2016.

We have serious concerns regarding the panel of judges overseeing this retrial. It will be presided over by the same judge who oversaw the first trial, which involved several violations of the right to a fair trial and according to the Bar Human Rights Committee, “gave the appearance of a show trial”. The same panel of judges also previously refused to implement the Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights rulings that Mehmet Altan’s rights had been violated by his pre-trial detention, sparking off a constitutional crisis

With the Constitutional Court failing to find a violation in the case of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak in May 2019, we look to the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) for justice. In 2018, the Court found several violations of Mehmet Altan’s rights. The Court also said that it would keep the effectiveness of remedies before the Constitutional Court under review. Altan and Ilıcak have now spent over three years in pre-trial detention. If the judge rules on Monday in line with the Prosecutor’s final opinion, they will be condemned to an even longer period of unjustified detention. By January 2020, their applications before the Strasbourg Court will have been pending for three years. A judgment from the European Court of Human Rights on their cases is now crucial. 




Article 19

Articolo 21

Danish Pen

English Pen

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Freedom House

German Pen

Global Editors Network (GEN)


Index on Censorship

Norwegian Pen

P24 – Platform for Independent Journalism

Pen America

Pen Canada

Pen International

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish Pen


About the case

The retrial in the case of writers and media workers Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül began on 8 October 2019, after the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned their convictions of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence and force” under Article 309 of the Turkish Penal Code, for which they had been given aggravated life sentences. The Supreme Court of Appeals found that there had been no evidence of their use of “violence and force” and that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted entirely due to lack of sufficient evidence. The charges for the other five defendants were reduced: Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak face new charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation” while Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül face charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Their re-trial, on new charges, began in October 2019 and the second hearing, at which the judge may rule on the case is on November 4, 2019. 

More detailed information on these cases and the retrial can be found here

ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the court in June 2018: https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-article-19-submits-expert-opinion-in-the-case-of-brothers-ahmet-and-mehmet-altan/


Freedom of expression in Turkey

Under President Erdogan’s rule, freedom of expression has severely declined in Turkey. Over the last four years, at least 3,673 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed and the judiciary effectively purged of anyone who is perceived as opposing the government through the exercise of freedom of expression. Around 170 media outlets have been closed down over claims they spread “terrorist propaganda”. Only 21 of these have been able to reopen, some of them however being subject to major changes in their management boards. Turkey has become the world’s biggest jailor of journalists with at least 121 journalists and media workers currently in prison and hundreds more on trial.

For more information on freedom of expression in Turkey, please see our joint NGO submission for Turkey’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations



For further information Pam Cowburn, [email protected], 07749 785 932.