“Belated decision for freedom of speech in Turkey” – journalists' lawyer

The Turkish Constitutional Court’s decision to release two journalists from jail on Thursday is a very significant moment, likely to set a precedent for long-term, pre-trial detentions in Turkey, human rights lawyers told Ahval.

The court, based in the capital Ankara, ruled that the 17-month detention of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan violated their rights. The court also decided to pay 20.000 Turkish lira, or 5300 US Dollars for reparation to Altan. 

Another journalist Turhan Günay, who made a similar application, was released earlier by a lower court.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan's attorney who also made an individual application to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey on behalf of Altan, stated in his statement to Ahval:

"With this decision, we felt like the first drop of rain hit us after a long drought. We felt the prospect of a revival of law and order [in Turkey]. Unless a higher will prompts a reversal of this decision, this verdict can [potentially] change precedence. This decision can affect [the fates of] all detained journalists. It can mark a new direction in the judicial approach, but I need to see the detailed ruling first."Engin Cinmen, a veteran human rights lawyer, told Ahval that the decision put an end to one of the most serious violations of freedoms in Turkey, therefore will set a very significant precedent.

“The head of the Constitutional Court, Zühtü Arslan, said in May 2017 that the court was planning to issue rulings on significant cases, and by setting a precedent, the court will end the problem of jailed journalists in Turkey. This is exactly that," Cinmen said.

Fikret İlkiz, who represents several other journalists in court, told Ahval that the ruling will be binding for not only the cases of journalists, but for all other cases of long pre-trial detentions.

İlkiz said that the court’s full ruling, which details the scope of the decision, will probably be made available later on Thursday.

“It is a belated decision for freedom of speech,” Alpay’s lawyer Veysel Ok said in an interview.

An application to have Alpay released was made in August 2016, he said.

“It is significant for journalism in Turkey that the Constitutional Court took this case after a year and ruled that their rights were breached,” Ok said.

The court’s detailed ruling is not available yet, he said.

“But I hope it is written in a way that sets a clear precedent for all Turkish journalists who were wrongfully imprisoned, bringing back freedom of speech to Turkey.”

The court ruled only on the case of the journalists, but its decisions are legally binding on all courts and institutions, Ok said, adding that he expected Alpay and Altan to be released from prison today.

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