Rights group says re-arrest of Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan psychological torture

Rights group Article 19 said Turkish authorities had subjected journalist Ahmet Altan to psychological torture by re-arresting him just a week after he was freed from jail after serving time for links to a failed 2016 coup. 

Altan was one of the most prominent journalists and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government to be jailed in a wide-ranging crackdown following the 2016 coup attempt that saw tens of thousands locked up and more than 100,000 dismissed from their jobs.

Altan was freed on Nov. 5 for time served after spending just over three years of a 10-year sentence in a maximum-security jail after being convicted of aiding a terrorist organisation. Altan was accused of helping the Gülen movement, a secretive Islamist group formerly allied to Erdoğan’s party that the government accuses of being behind the 2016 coup.

An Istanbul court on Tuesday reversed a ruling ordering Altan’s release, saying that he had shown no remorse, he posed a flight risk and that his sentence could be increased on appeal.

“Ahmet Altan was unjustly imprisoned for over three years while defending himself against trumped up coup charges. Re-arresting him just a week after his release amounts to psychological torture,” said Thomas Hughes, executive director at Article 19. 

“The welcome release of Ahmet Altan does not alter the fact that we consider there was not sufficient or proper basis for his conviction, or to hold him in pre-trial detention for over three years,” said Schona Jolly QC, chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales, who has been monitoring the trial. “Re-arresting him now, following his public criticism of the Turkish authorities upon his release, has all the appearance of a further abuse of power, by way of politically-motivated and/or judicial harassment.”

The EU has also condemned the journalist's rearrest.

Maja Kocijancic, the spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said Altan’s re-arrest “damages the credibility of Turkey’s judiciary, in particular due to the high level of political interference. This interference needs to halt’’.

“Journalists need to do their job – they do not belong in jail,’’ Kocijancic said, highlighting what she called the persistent erosion of press freedom in Turkey.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, blasted the Turkish court over the decision to re-arrest Altan.

 “Like many others, I am appalled by the senseless cruelty that Turkish courts displayed once more by detaining #AhmetAltan again. He should immediately be released,” Mijatović said.

 

Altan, in an article he wrote after his release, predicted he would be rearrested. 

“During my long incarceration, I faced judges on many occasions. They didn’t even listen to what I said. I laid out the proof of my innocence and they kept repeating the same accusations. First, they sentenced me to life without parole, then they changed my sentence to 10-and-a-half years and I was released,” he said. “I write this as I await the decision a judge will make on the appeal of the prosecutor who objected to my release – they may send me back to prison.”

Ali Duran Topuz, a columnist for the Duvar news site, said on Tuesday that Altan’s re-arrest proved that unpredictability had become the new norm of the Turkish justice system. 

“Try to love prison as if you will never be released. Try to stay away from loving freedom as though you could be arrested any moment,” Topuz said.