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.

Ahmet Altan marks 1,500 days behind bars

Ahmet Altan marks 1,500 days behind bars

Stressing that Ahmet Altan is imprisoned on dubious charges, rights defenders, lawmakers and representatives of international press freedom organizations call for his immediate release



As of 9 November 2020, renowned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan has been behind bars for 1,500 days.


The former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf newspaper was first arrested on 10 September 2016 over his political commentary during a television program he appeared as a guest the night before the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016. He was jailed pending trial on 23 September 2016.


In a 247-page indictment issued months later, Ahmet Altan faced three aggravated life sentences on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Parliament, and the government.” 


At the end of the trial, in February 2018, the trial court sentenced Ahmet Altan and five of his co-defendants, including his brother, to aggravated life sentences on the charge of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order."


The Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Altan’s conviction in July 2019, ruling that he should have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization” and sending the case file back to the trial court for retrial.


At the end of his retrial, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Altan of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and ruled to release him, taking into consideration the time he spent in pre-trial detention. Altan, who was handed down a prison sentence of 10 years and 6 months, was released from the Silivri Prison on 4 November 2019 after spending 1,138 days behind bars.


However, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office objected to his release. Although the trial court initially rejected the objection, the next court of first instance ruled on 12 November 2019 for Altan's rearrest on the grounds that “the judicial control measures imposed on him” remained “insufficient considering flight risk … the intensity of his actions, the duration of the prison sentence he was given, the time he spent in detention on remand … as well as his conduct following his release.”


Altan was re-arrested the same day based on a warrant issued by the 27th High Criminal Court, which also revoked the trial court’s decision to release him. After spending the night in custody, on 13 November 2019, Altan appeared before the 27th High Criminal Court, which ruled to send him back to the Silivri Prison only eight days after his release.


Issuing messages concerning the 1,500th day of Altan’s imprisonment, press freedom organizations, lawyers and politicians stressed that Altan is wrongfully imprisoned and called on authorities to release him.



Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia for Article 19:


Today marks 1,500 days of detention for the Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan. 

Today is a terrible milestone both for Ahmet, and for justice and freedom of expression in Turkey. Today Article 19 once again calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately release Ahmet, who was convicted on completely baseless charges with no supporting evidence. Today, once again, we call on the European Court of Human Rights to immediately rule on Ahmet’s case, which has been pending before them for four years.



International Press Institute (IPI):


International Press Institute (IPI) joins the international coalition calling for an end to the imprisonment of veteran journalist and writer Ahmet Altan as he marks 1,500 days in prison. We demand his immediate release and stand in solidarity with all journalists in Turkey jailed for their work.


Özgür Öğret, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Turkey Representative: 


Ahmet Altan has been in prison for 1,500 days. Ahmet Altan has been deprived of his freedom for the past four years as a result of allegations such as being “a terrorist,” “supporting terrorism” and “involvement in the July 15 coup attempt.” Throughout this period, authorities could not prove the allegations against Altan, because there was no such evidence. But that didn't protect him from being convicted anyway. Neither the lack of evidence nor the insufficient grounds put forward through items cited as “evidence” in the indictment could prevent him from being convicted. Ahmet Altan has been in prison for 1,500 days for no reason. Altan is a “criminal of thought.” He is in prison not because he is a terrorist or a putschist, but because the government disapproves of his opinions and deems his ideas inconvenient.


Currently the coronavirus pandemic threatens the whole world. Prison conditions pose a disadvantage for protection from the virus. Under these conditions, Altan’s health, and maybe even his life is at risk, let alone being in prison for no reason. Altan's freedom is not a risk or a threat for Turkey. Ahmet Altan’s imprisonment is a shame for Turkey. We demand freedom for Ahmet Altan and other journalists who have been labeled as “terrorists” and imprisoned over their opinions and journalistic work.


Milena Büyüm, Turkey Campaigner for Amnesty International:


I am the Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, a human rights organization established over six decades ago to campaign for justice and freedom for prisoners of conscience — that is individuals imprisoned simply for expressing their peaceful opinions. And one such prisoner in Turkey is Ahmet Altan who is marking 1,500 days behind bars today. That’s over four years in prison. And as I walk in a park, thinking about Ahmet Altan, I renew our call for his unconditional and immediate release from prison. His situation is one of the greatest injustices of the last several years. Free Ahmet Altan. Thank you.



Emma Sinclair-Webb, Human Rights Watch Turkey Director: 


Today marks the 1500th day in detention of novelist and writer Ahmet Altan.


Ahmet Altan has spent the past four years locked up in Istanbul’s high security Silivri Prison. He was first accused back in 2016 of involvement in the military coup attempt and charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” When that charge didn't stick, he was accused of “aiding a terrorist organization” and received a 10-year six-month prison sentence. In all the prosecution against Ahmet Altan, throughout his trial, not a shred of credible evidence has been brought to support baseless charges against him.


Human Rights Watch calls for the immediate release from prison of Ahmet Altan and the dropping of all charges against him.



Erol Önderoğlu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative:


Whether one likes him or not, everyone knows that Ahmet Altan could not have played a part in any coup attempt. But the judiciary delightfully welcomed the political authority’s anger towards Altan: He spent three years behind bars, all the while searching for justice. Apparently he is not one who would keep silent, for just one week after his release after being given an unprecedented prison sentence of 10 years, he was re-arrested.


He might have made mistakes in the past; we may or may not agree with his opinions, but a majority of people agree that Ahmet Altan’s imprisonment, which, as of today, has reached 1,500 days, is injustice. The conduct toward Altan is both a bitter proof of the double standard and shows the extent of the “enemy law.”



Philippe Sands QC, President of English PEN:


This is a message for my dear friend Ahmet Altan. It’s 1,500 days, Ahmet, and there's not a single day that passes that I do not think of you and many others do not think of you and all those writers who are detained without any reasonable cause in the laws of Turkey.


You are a writer, you are a thinker, you are a human being, you are my friend. You've been detained for 1,500 days. It is an outrage, it is against the spirit of the idea of law, and I implore the leaders of the government of Turkey to release you at least immediately on humanitarian ground. Because amongst all of the other challenges that are faced, you now also face the challenge of coronavirus.


Be strong, be free in your spirit, and know that around the world there are many, many, many of us who think of you, who support you and who are with you at this moment and going forward in all times. 


We respect you, we salute you, and we love you. Be well, dear Ahmet.



Caroline Stockford, Turkey Adviser, Norwegian PEN:


Monday, 9 November, will mark 1,500 days in prison for the Turkish editor, journalist and author Ahmet Altan. PEN Norway calls for his immediate and unconditional release.


We will be studying his initial indictment in the case in which he was accused and alleged to have used “subliminal messages” on television prior to an attempted coup in the county in 2016. We expect to find that that indictment, just like all the others we’ve studied this year in our Turkey Indictment Project 2020, will show that the indictment itself has not adhered to Turkish procedural standards outlined in Law 170 and neither does it conform to international standards. If these indictments are flawed initially, it is up to the judicial panel to throw the case out of court and to acquit these individuals. And they should not be left to spend two or three years or longer in prison, waiting for a judicial system that is not functioning, waiting for a fair trial that is not going to come until three is serious, not just reform, but return to the rule of law in Turkey, adherence to the constitution and to the procedural and penal code. And we call today, on 9 November 2020, for the immediate release of Ahmet Altan. He is a strong, dissenting voice, but that is what is permitted with freedom of expression and in a functioning democracy.


Pen Norway will be studying Ahmet Altan’s indictment and we will be reporting on it before the end of the year. Free Ahmet Altan.



Schona Jolly QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC):


BHRC has monitored many trials in Turkey in the aftermath of the attempted coup in 2016, including that of Ahmet Altan. His own words, written in his memoir “I Will Never See the World Again” played over in my mind when I waited to see if he would finally be released this time last year. When he was, as delighted as were, there was anger about the wasted years he had spent in prison over fantastical charges, lacking any credible evidence base. Pre-trial detention has become itself a weapon that is used now in Turkey both to deter and to punish civil society and free expression, just as Turkey’s judiciary is being both punished and weaponized in a systematic attack on the rule of law itself. 

Ahmet Altan wrote, “I knew one day they would come for me. Now they had.” He could not have imagined that they would come back for him again. His re-arrest, and his detention now marking 1,500 days, appears politically charged in a justice system that appears increasingly cruel and compromised. He should be released, immediately, to see the world again.



Filiz Kerestecioğlu, HDP Lawmaker:


Ahmet Altan is one of the most acclaimed and beloved novelists in Turkey. Through a revanchist attitude, Altan has been held in prison for four years in a trial that is clearly politically motivated. Torture methods of the past have now been replaced by the judiciary. Like so many others, Ahmet Altan too is imprisoned for his opinions -- just like Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ and other political prisoners or journalists. Altan has always been an outspoken person and I believe he will not change. However, this country is losing so many things by keeping these esteemed people behind bars. I do hope and believe that freedom is not too far away for Ahmet Altan.



Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, HDP Lawmaker:


Ahmet Altan has been imprisoned for 1,500 days, suffering persecution for defending democracy and the rule of law. It is clear that in a country where Ahmet Altan is imprisoned, democracy and the rule of law do not exist. The way I see it, as long as Ahmet Altan is in prison, democracy too, is imprisoned.

Altan was imprisoned on dubious allegations and accusations and was rearrested under a politically motivated decision after being released by court.


Ahmet Altan is in prison over three articles he wrote and his commentary, in which he exercised freedom of expression, and for demanding democracy and the implementation of the rule of law. But he is not one who would give in, and will keep defending his opinions.



Sezgin Tanrıkulu, CHP Lawmaker:


Ahmet Altan is an outstanding novelist. His work has been published in numerous different languages. He is also an outstanding journalist. And he has been imprisoned since 10 September 2016. Today marks his 1,500th day in prison. The grounds for his imprisonment is absurd. He was arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal” messages during a television appearance one day before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and has been unlawfully kept in prison since. His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals. He stood trial again, and was released by the trial court. A week later he was re-arrested based on the prosecutor’s objection. His file is once again pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals. Ahmet Altan is a journalist. Ahmet Altan is a novelist. Ahmet Altan is unlawfully imprisoned. He is officially being held hostage.


Utku Çakırözer, CHP Lawmaker: 


Novelist Ahmet Altan has been behind bars for 1,500 days. He was first sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for his articles and his televised political commentary. After this conviction was overturned, he was given a prison sentence of 10 years and 6 months and released. However, in an unprecedented move, the prosecutor demanded Altan’s rearrest and he was subsequently sent back to the Silivri Prison. For Ahmet Altan to be in prison for 1,500 days over his opinions, and for expressing his opinions, is a major rights violation. His file, currently pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals, should be reviewed without further delay and a judgment ordering his release should be rendered to set Ahmet Altan free. Not just Ahmet Altan, but all “prisoners of thought,” journalists, lawmakers, mayors who are being kept behind bars for merely expressing their thoughts should be freed without further delay.


Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, Ahmet Altan’s Lawyer:


Ahmet Altan has been wrongfully kept behind bars for 1,500 days over only three articles he wrote. Had Ahmet Altan not been a novelist, but a former Istanbul governor or a former Istanbul police chief who stood trial on the same charges, he would have been freed long ago. A country cannot take pride in its 1,500-day long cruel treatment to a novelist whose books have been published in 23 countries; whose freedom is demanded by 51 Nobel Prize-winners; who won many prestigious international literary awards for the books he penned in his prison cell in Silivri. This sad situation is the latest example of hostility towards writers in this country: from Nazım Hikmet to Sabahattin Ali and from Kemal Tahir to Orhan Kemal, so many became targets of this shameful cruelty. Members of the judiciary must not become tools serving this ingrained hostility towards writers in this country. Members of the judiciary are supposed to abide by the rule of law and fairly and conscientiously evaluate evidence inside a case file. Hostility towards writers has never brought anyone glory. Ahmet Altan has been in prison for 1,500 days while his case file has been pending review for the past year. Today is 9 November 2020. Ahmet Altan has been in prison for 1,500 days. This is nothing to take pride in.