Mehmet Altan lawyers demand Turkey free him after human rights court ruling

The European Court of Human Rights said Turkey had violated the rights and freedoms of academic and commentator Mehmet Altan and journalist Şahin Alpay and ordered Ankara to pay 21,500 euros in compensation.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled in January that both Altan and Alpay should be released on the grounds that their extended period of pre-trial detention violated their freedom to liberty and freedom of expression. But the lower court ignored the ruling and both remained in prison.

Mehmet Altan was sentenced to an aggravated life sentences on Feb. 16 on charges of “seeking to overthrow the constitutional order by force” without a parole. Alpay, facing similar terrorism charges, applied to the Constitutional Court again, which once more ruled that his rights had been violated and ordered his conditional release. Alpay was then let out of jail on March 17, but remains under house arrest and is barred from leaving Turkey while his trial continues.

The pair were jailed in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 2016 and accused of links to the Gülen movement that Turkey accuses of carrying out the abortive putsch in which some 240 people were killed. Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive Turkish cleric living in the United States since 1999, denies the charges.

In their applications to the ECHR, Altan and Alpay argued that Turkey had violated several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court decided by a majority that Turkey had violated Article 5 of the convention, which relates to the right to liberty and security, and Article 10, relating to freedom of expression.

The only person to vote against the court’s decision was Turkish judge Ergün Ergül.

On the other hand, ECHR also observed that applications to Turkey’s Constitutional Court were still effective domestic legal avenue and decided against ruling there had been a violation of the right to a speedy judicial review. “The applicant’s application to the Constitutional Court was a complex one, being one of the first of a series of cases raising new and complicated issues concerning the right to liberty and security and freedom of expression under the state of emergency following the attempted military coup,” the ECHR ruling said.

Mehmet Altan’s lawyer Engin Cinmen told Ahval that the ECHR decision clearly stated that the rights of Altan have been violated and said the court also demanded the immediate application of the Constitutional Court’s January decision, ordering Altan’s release. Accordingly, Altan’s lawyers have already lodged an application to the local court demanding he be freed.

Cinmen said that if Altan were not released, “Turkey would be acting against its commitments to the Council of Europe”, and that would also mean the violation of its own constitution.

Altan’s case was “a legal tragedy”, Cinmen and Figen Çalıkuşu, another lawyer acting for Altan, said in a statement. The Constitutional Court, they said, had ruled that the evidence against Altan was not even sufficient for his arrest.