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.

Organisations call on Russia to end targeting of journalists covering Moscow protests

Since the electoral authorities rejected several opposition candidates for September’s city council elections, protesters have taken to the streets of Moscow on four consecutive Saturdays. Russian authorities have responded with threats, violence, and detentions.

Journalists who have been reporting on the protests have consistently been targeted. On 27 July 2019, two journalists suffered broken noses after being struck by police, one received injuries to his hands and head after being hit with a police baton, a fourth was beaten in a police van after his arrest, and a fifth received injuries from a police assault.

Police have detained dozens of reporting journalists in the last few weeks, even after they had shown their accreditation. On 3 August 2019, police detained at least fourteen journalists. One journalist was arrested even after police found his accreditation and editorial assignment when they searched him. He was released shortly afterwards, but subsequently re-arrested and taken to a police station. All eight journalists were released the same day without charge.

Several YouTube channels have been broadcasting the protests live, but on 11 August the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor published a statement calling on YouTube to stop “advertising” the demonstrations. The regulator said that a failure to respond would be considered “interference in its sovereign affairs” and that Russia would have the right to retaliate.

Several media freedom and journalists’ organisations have filed two alerts with the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists in relation to Russia’s response to the protests. No reply has so far been received from the Russian Federation.

Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy Research and Advocacy Officer at Index on Censorship said “Russian authorities seem to be indifferent to the fact that, by targeting protesters and journalists with violence and detentions, they are in flagrant violation of their obligations under international human rights law. But they should bear in mind that their response will only fan the flames of these pro-democracy protests. Journalists are the defenders of our democracy – without journalists and media freedom, there is no democracy”.

Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom said “The violent crackdown on journalists in Russia is a violation of the freedom of the press and freedom of information. Repressing coverage on protests in favour of fair elections and against police violence and on the oppression of those – re-affirms the need of journalists as watchdogs. It must stop”.

Ravi R. Prasad, Director of Advocacy at the International Press Institute said “Attack on journalists covering democratic protests is against the principles of democracy. The government should allow journalists to do their job without any fear of reprisal and attacks. By attacking journalists Russia is attempting to stifle press freedom and the right of its people to be informed”.

Russia is not the only country where journalists are under threat in connection with protests. Index on Censorship’s 2018 report Targeting the messenger: Journalists on the frontline of protests highlighted the challenges in European countries.

Index on Censorship

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

International Press Institute (IPI)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Russian Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union (JMWU)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Index on Censorship’s Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom project monitors threats, limitations and violations related to media freedom in five countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine for the purpose of identifying and analysing issues, trends and drivers and exploring possible response options and opportunities for advocating media freedom. The project collects and analyses limitations, threats and violations that affect a journalist as they do their job.

As space for independent media shrinks, journalists find themselves under increasing threats of physical violence

  • Independent media sources have been hamstrung by restrictive legislation and police, governmental, and private interference.
  • Physical assaults, detentions, lawsuits, fines, and blocked access are common. Many outlets have chosen to practice self-censorship to protect themselves.
  • Strict new laws limiting press freedom have been introduced, despite having progressive press laws from the 1990s still on the books and a constitutional article guaranteeing freedom of the press.

Out of 175 violations recorded in Russia by the Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom project between February and June 2019, 20 were physical assaults that came from political figures, police structures, known private individuals and unknown perpetrators. Several of the cases are egregious examples of how physical violence is used to target journalists in Russia.

Read the full report

Previous report: Legislative restrictions, bomb threats and vandalism are just some of the issues Russian journalists have faced this year

A victory for opponents of free speech

Sony’s decision to pull U.S. film The Interview from distribution after threats underlines the continuing trend of failure to protect artistic freedom of expression.

“Clearly this sets an example for other anonymous groups to put a curb on artistic expression through threats. This opens the door for anyone to level a threat against artistic works that they don’t agree with or find distasteful,” Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine said.

Sony’s decision to postpone the film on the basis of public safety follows what the company calls an “unprecedented” assault by hackers on its business and employees. The film’s derailing comes as the main North American theatre chains halted plans to show the release amid hackers’ warnings to the public to stay away.

“Sony should take steps to stand up for the free expression of its filmmakers by reconsidering its decision or releasing the film online,” Jolley said.