Rights group urges Turkey to release journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan

The New York-based human rights group Freedom House issued a statement after a local Turkish court rejected a ruling by the Constitutional Court requiring the release of two journalists from prison.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that the pre-trial detention of journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan violated their rights.

The same day, a lower court rejected the ruling, saying it had not received the order “in due course.” The same court later insisted on its decision, arguing that the Constitutional Court does not have the power to review the merits of the case.

Government officials had similarly criticized the Constitutional Court’s ruling, saying courts should not hinder the government’s “struggle against terrorism”.

Alpay and Altan, along with dozens of other journalists, were detained in July 2016 in relation to the coup attempt. Pro-government media channels reported that they were charged with membership of the “FETÖ terrorist organisation” the label given by the Turkish government to the followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Turkey blames Gülen for masterminding the coup attempt and has jailed many of his followers on terrorism charges.

Gülen denies any involvement with the coup. Alpay and Altan deny being followers of Gülen, and also deny the charges against them.

Mike Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, said, “When a lower court feels empowered to interpret the Constitution in direct contradiction to a ruling of the highest court in the land, government officials are acting outside the law and with complete impunity.”

“Journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan—as well as dozens of others whose cases are implicitly covered by the Constitutional Court’s ruling—should be released immediately,” Abramowitz said.