Following today’s decision by the 27th High Criminal Court in Istanbul to reject an appeal to release Turkish columnist and professor of economics Mehmet Altan from pre-trial detention, PEN America calls for the judiciary to respect and implement the higher court’s ruling and for Mehmet Altan to be released immediately alongside his brother Ahmet Altan, a writer and journalist who is also incarcerated.
In September 2016, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show, the Altan brothers were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force.
On January 11, 2018, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled in a criminal case that Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist, Sahin Alpay’s rights were being violated by pre-trial detention and ruled that they should be released. Within 24 hours of that ruling the 27th High Criminal Court in Istanbul declined to implement the Constitutional Court decision. This was followed by a similar ruling by the 26th High Criminal Court on January 15. Altan’s appeal of the 27th High Court decision was rejected today. Additionally, Altan’s lawyers have filed a complaint to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors against the panels of judges on the 26th and 27th High Criminal Courts for failing to implement the Constitutional Court decision. With the failure of two lower courts to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision, Mehmet Altan has filed a petition for the courts to enact this ruling and release them from arbitrary detention. Although the case concerns only Altan and Alpay, the ruling could have potentially broad implications for other Turkish writers and activists currently in jail, and could open the door for the release of others.
“The failure of the judiciary to uphold the rulings of the Constitutional Court is a transgression of Mehmet Altan’s intrinsic rights, and the rights of the dozens of other writers and journalists detained as a result of their expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “It calls into question the independence of the Turkish judicial system and its ability to rule fairly in cases involving human rights without government intervention or influence.”
Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.
Published on PEN America on January 24, 2018