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.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1521808770518-0e88bc5e-2722-5″ taxonomies=”8862″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey’s journalists have sacrificed their freedom in the pursuit of truth

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Journalists Facing Trial in Turkey

Recent developments in Turkey, once seen as a role model for the Muslim world, have shown that concepts such as the rule of law and right to free speech are no longer welcome by the Erdogan government.

With 156 journalists behind bars as of 26 February 2018 and the closing down of more than 150 media outlets by virtue of the state’s of emergency decrees, Turkey is the global leader in suppressing the media. The irony is that Erdogan was once a victim of an earlier oppressive regime in the late 1990s, having been dismissed as mayor of Istanbul, banned from political office and put in prison for three months for inciting religious hatred after he recited part of a poem by the Turkish nationalist Ziya Gokalp at a political rally.

The destruction of the rule of law in Turkey has been in the making since the anti-government Gezi Park protests and corruption probes of 2013. However, the government has made its intentions on the right to free speech crystal clear in the aftermath of the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. Many journalists and writers have been imprisoned over accusations as absurd as spreading subliminal messages to promote the coup.

Some of them — like Die Welt journalist Deniz Yucel — have languished in detention without charge for a year. Yucel was used as a bargaining chip against Germany and was only freed after chancellor Angela Merkel put pressure on the Turkish government. Immediately after he was let out of detention he published a video message in which he said: “I still don’t know why I was arrested and why I have been released.”

Ahmet Sik, another well-known journalist, was imprisoned because of his thorough investigations into the dark sides of the coup attempt. Can Dundar was arrested for publishing about Turkish intelligence’s illegal arms transfers to Syria. He was kept in prison for several months and eventually released on a constitutional court decision in February 2016. He fled the country and currently lives in Germany. Veteran journalists Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, on the other hand, were not so lucky. They had been granted freedom by the constitutional court but a local court refused to implement their release. Recently, the Altan brothers, Mehmet and Ahmed, and another senior journalist, Nazli Ilicak, have been brutally sentenced to aggravated life prison sentences. Examples of the obscene unlawful imprisonment of journalists can go on and on.

The heart of the issue is that Turkish journalists do excellent work. They go to extraordinary efforts to make sure the public is informed about corruption, illegal arms transfers, extrajudicial killings of Kurds and minorities, shady affairs of the ruling party with the judiciary and unanswered questions about the coup attempt. The government doesn’t want to see these issues make headlines, and for defying it many journalists have sacrificed their freedom.

Behind the thin veneer of Turley’s judicial system is the political machine manufacturing countless crimes. After 500 days pretrial detention, Ahmet Turan Alkan, an intellectual and a respected writer, pointed that out by telling a judge: “Your honour, I know you can’t release me because if you decide to do so you will be jailed.”

Turkey’s journalists are faced with a unique problem: if they continue to lay bare the truth for all to see they risk exile or prison. In a normal country, journalists performing at the height of their abilities would be encouraged or rewarded, perhaps not by their governments but by the society as a whole. But not so in Turkey, where the government mouthpieces and politically-aligned media outlets spout the latest propaganda to manipulate Turks. Unfortunately, the majority of people actually believe that most of the arrested journalists are criminals or terror supporters.

This collective hostility to freedom of expression makes Turkey one of the biggest violators of press freedom in the 42 European-area countries Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project monitors; one of the lowest ranking countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index; and deemed “not free” by Freedom House’s evaluation.

It’s not just journalists. Academics, rights defenders, philanthropists and lawyers also face punishment for carrying out their professional responsibilities on behalf of the public. Disclosing the unlawful practices of those in power is all it takes for an individual to find themselves on the wrong side of the bars. As with Alpay and Altan, a court had ordered Taner Kilic, the chairman of Amnesty Turkey, to be released from detention, but the prosecutor put him back in prison. Kilic and his colleagues are being targeted in retribution for Amnesty International’s work to make the world aware of the inhumane conditions in Turkey’s post-coup attempt era.

The government’s intolerance toward dissenting voices can also be seen in its treatment of university professors, students and others who signed an Academics for Peace petition, which called for an end to violence in the Kurdish region of the country. Hundreds of distinguished academics have found themselves summoned to courtrooms. For taking a stand about the ongoing tragedy in Kurdish cities, the majority of these academics are dehumanised and defamed. They have not only become enemies of the state but enemies of all Turks.

Yes, the government has terrorised ordinary people with the narrative of the “world against great Turkey” and urged them to stand against outspoken figures who are the “spies, traitors and enemies”.

What do the EU and other international organisations do? Mostly expressing their “concern” in different formats such as “great”, “deep” or “serious”. Even the European Court of the Human Rights has not issued a single verdict against Turkey’s post-coup purge which has seen the country become the world’s largest jailer of journalists.

On the same day the Altan brothers were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, Tjorbon Jaglan, the secretary general of the Council of Europe was on a two-day visit in Turkey.  He didn’t utter a single word about their situation. What else could better fit the definition of the “banality of evil” conceptualised by Hannah Arendt?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1519832159496-f7b69135-ce98-10″ taxonomies=”8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey: Losing the rule of law


Award-winning writer, human rights activist and columnist Aslı Erdoğan

“When I understood that I was to be detained by a directive given from the top, my fear vanished,” novelist and journalist Aslı Erdoğan, who has been detained since 16 August, told the daily Cumhuriyet through her lawyer. “At that very moment, I realised that I had committed no crime.”

While her state of mind may have improved, her physical well-being is in jeopardy.  A diabetic, she also suffers from asthama and chronic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I have not been given my medication in the past five days,” Erdoğan, who is being held in solitary confinement, added on 24 August. “I have a special diet but I can only eat yogurt here. I have not been outside of my cell. They are trying to leave permanent damage on my body. If I did not resist, I could not put up with these conditions.”

An internationally known novelist, columnist and member of the advisory board of the now shuttered pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily Erdoğan was accused membership of a terrorist organisation, as well as spreading terrorist propaganda and incitement to violence.

According to the Platform for Independent Journalism, Erdoğan is one of at least 100 journalists held in Turkish prisons. This number – which will rise further – makes Turkey the top jailer of journalists in the world.

Each day brings new drama. Erdoğan’s case is just one of the many recent examples of the suffering inflicted on Turkey. It is clear that the botched coup on 15 July did not lead to a new dawn, despite the rhetoric on “democracy’s victory”.

Turkey faces the same question it did before the 15 July: What will become of our beloved country? Like the phrase “feast of democracy” – which has been adopted by the pro-AKP media mouthpieces – it has been repeated so often that it habecome empty rhetoric.

Such false cries only serve the ruling AKP’s interests. Even abroad there are increased calls that we should support the government despite the directionless politics in Turkey and  the state of emergency.

In a recent article for Project Syndicate entitled Taking Turkey Seriously, former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote: “The West’s attitude toward Turkey matters. Western diplomats should escalate engagement with Turkey to ensure an outcome that reflects democratic values and is favorable to Western and Turkish interests alike.”

Lale Kemal took Turkey seriously. As one of the country’s top expert journalists on military-civilian relations, Kemal stood up for the truth, barely making a living as no mogul-owned media outlet would publish her honest journalism. She headed the Ankara bureau of independent daily Taraf, now shut down because of the emergency decree. She now sits in jail for the absurd accusation that she “aided and abetted” the Gülen movement, an Islamic religious and social movement led by US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refers to the movement as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETO) and blames it for orchestrating the failed coup.

But actually, Kemal’s only “crime” was to write for the “wrong” newspapers, Taraf and Today’s Zaman.

Şahin Alpay also took Turkey seriously. As a scholar and political analyst he was a shining light in many democratic projects and one of the leading liberal voices in Turkey.

Three weeks ago, he was detained indefinitely following a police raid at his home. His crime? Aiding and abetting terror, instigating the coup and writing for the Zaman and Today’s Zaman. This last point is now reason enough to deny such a prominent intellectual his freedom.

Access to the digital archives of “dangerous” newspapers – Zaman, Taraf, Nokta etc – is now blocked. This is a systematic deleting of their entire institutional memory. All those news stories, op-ed articles and news analysis pieces are now completely gone.

Basın-İş, a Turkish journalists’ union, stated that 2,308 journalists have lost their jobs since 15 July, and most will probably never to be employed again. Unemployment was their reward for taking Turkey seriously.

Erdoğan, Kemal and Alpay, like many journalists, academics and artists who care for their country, are scapegoats for the erratic policies of those in power.

Even businessmen have fallen victim to the massive witch hunt against “FETO”. Vast amounts of assets belonging to those accused of being Gülen sympathisers have been seized and expropriated by the state. Not long ago these businessmen were hailed as “Anatolian Tigers”, who opened the Turkish market to globalisation.

The seizures will probably draw complaints at the European Court level. They are sadly reminiscent of the expropriations at the end of the Ottoman Empire, which had targeted mainly Christian-owned assets.

What all of these cases have in common isn’t the acrimony that pollute daily politics in Turkey.  It is the total sense of loss for the rule of law, made worse by post-coup developments.

A version of this article originally appeared on Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is posted here with the permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.