The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Tuesday that Turkey has violated the rights of noted Turkish writer and journalist Ahmet Altan under the European Convention on Human Rights arising from his pre-trial detention on charges relating to the attempted coup d’état of July 2016.
Altan is a noted 71-year-old journalist from Istanbul and founder of the newspaper Taraf, which drew critics from the military and government establishment for its coverage. In 2016, he wrote several articles criticizing the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that formed the basis of charges against him for “disseminating subliminal messages to the public that were evocative of a coup.” He was also charged with being a member of the Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation (FËTO), which the government held responsible for the attempted coup.
In his articles, Altan had accused the president of not abiding by the constitution as well as sanctioning arbitrary arrests and armed assaults and cautioned that this behavior would ultimately lead to civil war in the country. In September 2016, he was indicted with 16 others by the 1st Magistrate’s Court for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” and, in February 2018, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the 26th Assize Court under Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code.
Later, his case was re-examined and he was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison on lesser charges by the Court of Cassation for “knowingly aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being a part of its hierarchical structure.” His application before the ECHR was filed in January 2017 but has only been duly considered recently.
The court found in favor of Altan with respect to violations of the right to liberty and security (Article 5 §1) for the lack of evidence forming a reasonable basis for suspicion; the right to have the lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court (Article 5 §4) for restricting Altan’s access to the case file; and the right to liberty and security (Article 5 §5) as a consequence of violating Articles 5 §§1 and 4. It also held that his right to freedom of expression (Article 10) had been violated, noting that since “[his] detention had not been based on a reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offense, the interference with the right to freedom of expression could [also] not be justified in law.”
Turkey has been ordered to pay Altan €16,000 (USD $19,000) in respect of non-pecuniary damage. Although ECHR decisions are binding on member countries, Turkey has ignored many recent rulings of the court, including the appeal to release philanthropist Osman Kavala and Kurdish minority leader Selahattin Demirtaş. By now, Altan has spent more than 1,500 days in jail since his detention in September 2016. Turkish authorities continue to crack down upon journalists and political dissenters, despite criticism from rights groups.