Mar 20 2018

ECHR rules against Turkey over jailed journalists

The European Court of Human Rights has published a legal decision ordering Turkey to pay 21,500 euros in compensation to professor and commentator Mehmet Altan and journalist Sahin Alpay for “explicitly violating” their rights and freedom to express their opinions.

The court made the rulings during sessions held on February 19-20 and published them on Tuesday. Only one of seven judges opposed the decision; the Turkish judge and Justice Ministry employee, Ergün Ergül.

Following the court’s decision, attention will turn to Ankara regarding Altan and Alpay's situations. Altan was sentenced to life imprisonment on Feb. 16 in a decision widely criticised by human rights groups and the European Union. He has the right to appeal the sentence. Alpay, 73, has been released conditionally, following an Istanbul court ruling on Friday.

Rebecca Harms, Green Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and expert on Turkey, commented today's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights:
 

"This long overdue ruling by the European Court of Human Rights comes too late and also bears disappointment: Mehmet Altan has already been sentenced and the Court did not rule on their complaint that they had been detained for expressing critical opinions about the government authorities. Nonetheless, the ECHR ruled that the long-term detention of the journalists and the disregard of the verdict of the Turkish Constitutional Court had violated their fundamental rights and that criticism of the government should not attract criminal charges for assisting a terrorist organisation. I do hope that this ruling can still lead the way to the release of Mehmet Altan and of Sahin Alpay. The Turkish government should immediately implement the ruling of the ECHR and the Turkish courts should respect this decision in all future trials. The normalization of relations between Turkey, the EU and its Member States can only happen on the condition that Turkey returns to the rule of law and to the protection of fundamental human rights. Comprehensive implementation of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights could be a first step in the right direction."

In January, Turkey’s Constitutional Court had ruled that Altan and Alpay should be released from prison because their lengthy pre-trial detention violated their rights. But a lower court failed to implement the ruling and they remained behind bars.

Altan was detained on Sept. 10, 2016, during the waves of detentions following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, accused of being a member of the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious group accused by Turkey of masterminding the coup. Gulen denies the charges. Alpay was detained the same month.

Alpay, a friend of Altan’s, is being tried on the charge of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’, a sentence that would mean life behind bars, plus an additional 15 years imprisonment for  ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’.