Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Academic Tuna Altınel released after 81 days in prison

Academic Tuna Altınel released after 81 days in prison

Mathematician Altınel, charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” for his role in an event in France, was released at the end of first court hearing in Balıkesir


Tuna Altınel, an assistant Professor at University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 who was behind bars since May in connection with an event he attended in France, was released at the end of first hearing in his trial on “terrorism” charges on 30 July 2019.

The Balıkesir 2nd High Criminal Court ruled for Altınel to be released without any judicial control measures to be imposed on him. The court panel also decided for Altınel to be held exempt from appearing in court for the next hearings.

One of the signatories of the Academics for Peace petition, Altınel was first arrested on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” on 11 May 2019 in Balıkesir, where he had contacted authorities to inquire about a ban imposed on his passport. The indictment against Altınel was submitted two days after his arrest, on 13 May 2019. The indictment prepared by the Balıkesir Cumhuriyet Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, requested jail term for Altınel for “membership in a terrorist organization” instead of the previous “propaganda”charge.

In the indictment, Altınel is accused of attending an event organized by the Amitíes Kurdes Lyon et Rhône Alpes Association on 21 February 2019.  In the event, Altınel had apparently been simultaneously interpreting the speech of HDP Deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız. There was also a screening of a documentary on the events during military operations in the Southeast town of Cizre in 2015, called “Cizre, the Story of a Massacre.” After Turkey’s Consul General in Lyon sent an official report concerning the event to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry requested imposition of restriction on Altınel’s passport, effectively barring him from leaving or entering Turkey.

In addition to P24, the first hearing of Altınel’s trial was followed by the Consul General of France Bertrand Buchwalter, CHP and HDP deputies, Altınel’s colleagues from Lyon 1 University, several academics and rights defenders.

Altınel’s defense: “No shred of evidence”

Standing trial for the first time after spending 81 days in pre-trial detention, Altınel denied the accusations. He said that the Amitíes Kurdes Lyon et Rhône Alpes, the association based in France which organized the event cited in the indictment and of which Altınel is a member, was operating legally, adding that the authorities were unable to present any piece of evidence to prove that this association in any way was associated with terrorist organizations.

“The goal of Amitíes Kurdes Lyon et Rhône Alpes is to promote Kurdish culture, to create a platform that will allow the recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people, to contribute to peaceful economic, social and cultural projects. It is not possible for an association like this to be an extension of a terrorist organization,” Altınel said.

Commenting on the event that led to the criminal charges, Altınel said its objective was to offer a platform for “discussion and memory work, to create awareness.” He said that HDP deputy Faysal Sarıyıldız was invited to the event because he was the deputy of the southeastern province of Şırnak and had witnessed first hand the incidents that the event was about. When Sarıyıldız came to Lyon he was clearly told that the purpose of the event was not making political propaganda.

Altınel also said that, unlike the indictment’s claim, he did not host the event and that he merely acted as a simultaneous interpreter because he was the member that was most fluent in Turkish and French.

Referring to the report on him that was prepared and sent to Ankara by the Turkish Consulate in Lyon, Altınel said the Consulate and the Foreign Ministry “spied” on him because “I was a citizen of Turkey who took part in organizing an event touching on sensitive issues.”

He explained that his passport was confiscated without an explanation the last time he came to Turkey, on 12 April 2019. “I knocked on every door I could think of in Istanbul for a month for an explanation but did not receive any,” he said, adding that he was arrested and then jailed pending trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” after he contacted the department dealing with passports at the Balıkesir Governor’s Office.

Altınel, also one of the more than 2,000 academics who signed the Academics for Peace declaration, said the authorities were seemingly unwilling to let the issues touched on in the declaration be discussed publicly. “Because facing the truths makes democracies stronger, richer, more glorious. But my efforts to seek out the truths triggered a despicable conspiracy against me, let alone being supported,” he said.

Altınel’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu said that elements of the crime of “membership in a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code did not exist and requested Altınel’s release and acquittal. Lawyer İnan Yılmaz said that there is no concrete evidence to support the accusations leveled against his client. Another lawyer of Altınel, Ayşe Aylin Barcın, referred to the Constitutional Court’s recent judgement on school teacher Ayşe Çelik, who was convicted for her televised comments on the plight of civilians in the Southeast during extended curfews and security operations of 2015. Noting that the Constitutional Court ruled that Çelik’s rights had been violated because of her conviction, Barcın said Altınel was on trial for being an interpreter at an event discussing the same events.

Laying out his requests after the defense statements, the prosecutor told the court that Altınel should be released subject to judicial control measures, i.e., international travel ban and/or having to report to a police station regularly, considering the time he already spent in prison. In its interim decision declared at the end of the hearing, the court panel ruled for Altınel to be released and for no judicial control measures to be imposed on him. Altınel is also to be held exempt from attending future hearings. The next hearing will be held on 19 November 2019.