Turkey’s top court orders release of journalists Altan and Alpay

Turkey’s Constitutional Court ordered the release of journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan on Thursday, a decision likely to set a precedent for other cases.

Altan and Alpay made individual applications to the court claiming that their detention violated their personal freedoms, freedom of expression and the 18th clause of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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

"This is the first decision on rights violations on an application since July 15," the journalists' lawyer Veysel Ok told Ahval, referring to the failed coup attempt on that day. "This is an important decision from the perspective of freedom of expression."

"This decision will be an important turning point for all journalists," he said. "This is a decision that represents that one-and-a-half years of detention is against the law and will be a lesson to lower courts that a message, a news article, a claim or a written piece will not represent evidence."

Ok told Ahval that he hoped the full decision would contain a precedent applicable to all Turkey's jailed journalists.

"Thus it could open the way for all wrongly imprisoned journalists to be released and bring freedom of expression to Turkey," he said.

All three journalists were arrested for their alleged links to the Gülen movement, headed by an exiled preacher that the Turkish government says masterminded the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Turkish journalists, particularly those jailed on similar charges, will be paying close attention to the ruling and the legal logic behind the decision, observers said.

Turkey’s 17-month-long state of emergency has been criticised by international rights groups for permanently eroding the rule of law and violating political rights.