Yavuz Baydar
Mar 01 2018

ECHR: Turkish Government explicitly violated journalists’ rights

The European Court of Human Rights has evaluated the applications of imprisoned authors and journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay and has decided that the Turkish Government has “explicitly violated”their rights.

The decision is expected to be announced in two weeks.

Ahval has confirmed from reliable sources that the Court made the ruling during the sessions held on February 19-20.

It is understood that only one judge opposed the decision;, the Turkish judge Ergün Ergül, replacing on ad hoc basis Işıl Karakas who was recused from those cases. Ergül, an expert on public administration law, was assigned to those cases despite the fact that he is still working as Deputy Undersecretary in the Ministry of Justice (a decision which was criticized on the grounds that the assignment was a serious compromise for the Court’s principle of impartiality), while January last year he was appointed as a trustee to Koza Altın, a company seized by the Turkish Government.

Ergül is now expected to submit his written dissenting opinion to the Court in two weeks time. However, this opinion will not affect the outcome. The Court’s decision on the violations is definitive.

Following the Court’s decision, at the moment everybody wonders about the reaction of Ankara regarding the situation of those two imprisoned ‘victims’.

Yet the legal circumstances of those two prisoners are quite different as Mehmet Altan was sentenced to ‘aggravated life imprisonment” on February 16, while the trial of Şahin Alpay still continues.  

The AKP government may choose to drag its feet by arguing that Altan has already been sentenced. However, normally Ankara is obliged to abide by the decision of  the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Şahin Alpay which neccesiates his immediate release.

Following the scandal emerged after the Constitutional Court’s decision last year regarding the rights of those two intellectuals, who are defined in the international media as ‘political prisoners”, this decision of the European Court of Human Rights undoubtedly indicates that the relationship between the Turkish Government and the Court will come to a critical point.

Sahin Alpay

Şahin Alpay was detained on July 27, 2016 and Mehmet Altan on September 10, 2016, during the waves of detentions following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. They are both leading figures of Turkey’s reformist-liberal circles and both worked as academics in different universities for a long time.  

Similar to many of his colleagues, Şahin Alpay was detained because his articles were being published in the media and he participated several television programs. He was arrested by the court in August 2016.

Alpay is accused of being one of the names behind the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The Court seeks for Alpay triple aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’, plus an additional 15 years of imprisonment for  ‘being a member of a terrorist organization’.

Alpay has chronic health problems, including ruptured intervertebral disk, sleep apnea, blood pressure, diabetics, and cholesterol, while he was recommended by medical experts to receive an angiography. However, his angiography was scheduled on the prison visiting date, and Alpay preferred to see his wife. Alpay still waits a new date to be scheduled for the angiography.

Alpay waited for an indictment for almost nine months and was first tried at court 14 months after his detention. His next hearing is on April 5.

During his first defense statement  to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, Alpay expressed his regret : “I should confess that I wasn’t aware that the movement had a dark face that was engaging in illegitimate affairs. Signs indicating that members of the Gülen movement were involved in the 15 July coup attempt to this or that extent have shocked me as a liberal democrat who has defended civilian governments all his life, who has written against military coups and military tutelage, and which has created in me a profound sense of oversight.

Alpay’s lawyer Veysel Ok submitted an application to the Constitutional Court on September 8, 2016, for Alpay’s release.

The Court avoided to evaluate Alpay’s application for a long time and as a result Veysel Ok this time applied to the European Court of Human Rights on February 28, 2017 on the grounds that Alpay’s rights had been violated according to Article 5 of European Convention on Human Rights on “liberty and security of a person”, as well as  Article 10 of the same Convention on “freedom of expression”.

Following the application, the European Court of Human Rights asked Turkish Government whether domestic remedies had been exhausted in this case. As a response, Ankara stated that Alpay’s application to the Constitutional court was still to be evaluated and argued that the European Court of Human Rights should not conclude on the case before the Constitutional Court’s ruling. .

mehmet altan

Mehmet Altan was arrested by the court on September 22, 2016 charged with “plotting the coup, aiding and abetting Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) and making FETÖ propaganda” due to his comments during a television program.

In his testimony to the prosecutor’s office, Altan refused the charges, noting “I have being against coups all my life. Therefore, it is impossible for me to cooperate with coup plotters. Both of my articles aimed to criticize the adverse political course of events. Only some parts of my articles are being taken into account, missing their overall meaning. My articles were meant to be warnings and they should be evaluated in relation to the freedom of press”.

The prosecutor asked for life imprisonment sentences on the ground of “violating the constitution” for all six prisoned journalists tried by the Court, including Nazlı Ilıcak.

Altan was first tried on June 19, 2017, 10 months after his arrest.

At the last hearing on February 16, 2018, the Court sentenced those six journalists, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, and Nazlı Ilıcak to triple aggravated life imprisonment.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court which evaluated the application made by lawyers on behalf of Altan to the Constitutional Court on November 8, 2016, decided on January 11, 2018 that his “pre-trial detention” violated his freedom to liberty and freedom of expression and ordered his release.

However, the local Court stood by the arrest decision and rejected Altan’s release.

Altan’s lawyers Ergin Cinmen, Orhan Kemal Cengiz and Veysel Ok submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights on January 12, 2017, asking his release.

On January 11, 2018, the Constitutional Court decided that Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan’s detention should be ended and demanded their release from custody.

In its decision, the Court (by an 11-6 majority vote) concluded that Alpay’s right to personal freedom and security and right to freedom of expression and freedom of press had been violated, stating that “there was not sufficient evidence for continued detention”.

Yet, (for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic) the local court defied the decision of a higher court and rejected Alpay’s release from custody.

The next hearing for Alpay, along with 20 other journalist and media representatives will be held in Silivri on April 5, 2018.