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’s lawyer calls on ECtHR to review his application

Ahmet Altan’s lawyer calls on ECtHR to review his application

Altan’s individual application has been pending before the European Court of Human Rights since January 2017. Altan has been jailed since September 2016

Jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan’s lawyer has called on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to take up the individual application filed on 12 January 2017 on behalf of her client without further delay.

In a petition filed with the ECtHR on 4 June, Altan’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu stressed that her client had been jailed for 991 days and called on the Strasbourg Court to urgently examine Altan’s application and render its judgment.

In a statement concerning her recent petition, Çalıkuşu said: “Turkey is now discussing a judicial reform strategy, but if only the country’s justice system operated fairly, that alone would have solved so many problems. Had Ahmet Altan been subjected to a fair trial, he would not have been in jail for the past 991 days.”

Altan and his brother were arrested on 10 September 2016 over alleged involvement in the failed coup attempt of July 2016. At the end of their trial, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted the Altan brothers and their four co-defendants of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order” under Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and sentenced each to aggravated life imprisonment. The case file is now pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals.

In her petition with the ECtHR, Çalıkuşu drew attention to the Constitutional Court’s judgment dated 3 May 2019, in which the Plenary finally took up Altan’s individual application more than 2-and-a-half years after it was lodged on 8 November 2016, only to find “no rights violations” in his file.

Çalıkuşu also stressed the inconsistent judgments rendered by the Constitutional Court in the individual applications of Ahmet Altan and his brother, Professor Mehmet Altan, who were both arrested at the same time, in the same manner and on the same allegations.

Noting that the Constitutional Court has also failed to write its judgment concerning Ahmet Altan’s file in the 30 days that elapsed following the Plenary’s 3 May 2019 decision, Çalıkuşu asserted that this was an indicator that Turkey’s top court was influenced by politics and that it could no longer be deemed an “effective” legal remedy as described in Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Following is the full text of Çalıkuşu’s petition submitted to the ECtHR:

1- On 8 November 2016 an individual application was lodged on behalf of the applicant with Turkey’s Constitutional Court (TCC).

Even though TCC had examined the application lodged by the applicant’s brother, Mehmet Altan -- arrested in exactly the same manner, with the same allegations -- and delivered a judgement concerning Mehmet Altan’s individual application on 11 January 2018, the applicant’s application file was referred to the TCC’s Plenary on 4 July 2018. Exactly 10 months after this date on 3 May 2019 the Plenary examined the applicant’s case and found no rights violations.

2- It has now been a month since 3 May 2019 and the TCC is yet to publish its judgement.

3- As we have expressed in our previous applications; the applicant states that the separation of his TCC application from his brother Mehmet Altan’s application, which was lodged on the same day over exactly same issues and same violation allegations; his rather long wait for the delivery of a judgement which ended up contradicting the judgement in his brother’s case; and the fact that that judgment has still not been published indicate that the TCC is clearly influenced by political calculations in Turkey, and that the TCC can no longer be called “effective” in the sense understood under Article 13. For all these reasons the judgment given by the TCC is highly concerning.

4- The reasoned judgement (page 744) issued on 16 February 2018 by the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which is a court of first instance, notes that the main evidence in the case [against Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan] are ‘certain statements made on television.’

On 11 January 2018, in the the judgment rendered by the TCC Plenary, there is a binding statement according to which it was understood and confirmed that “there is no factual basis to the claim that [Ahmet Altan as well as his brother Mehmet Altan] spoke with the aim of preparing the coup attempt.”

The 140th Paragraph of the 11 January 2018 ruling by the TCC Plenary reads:

“Considering in its entirety, the content and context of the statements that were made by the applicant and the matters discussed with other speakers before and after the statements in question were made, it is difficult to accept that these words could be defined -- beyond doubt -- as a call for a coup and that the applicant had said these things to knowingly prepare the public for the coup attempt that would take place the next day.

Acting otherwise will result in ascribing to those statements a meaning beyond what an objective observer might ascribe to them (see § 224).

Indeed, the statements made during the programme included speculations that the government might change as a result of either the elections to be held in two years’ time or some of the ruling party deputies resigning to form another party under another politician (see § 34).

Taking under consideration the said points, it has been found that the investigation authorities failed to present a factual basis to the claim that the applicant had said the words subject to incrimination with the aim of preparing the environment for a coup attempt.”

One of the speakers mentioned by the TCC Plenary in the 140th paragraph (above) is applicant Ahmet Altan.

The TCC, precisely in that paragraph, had rendered a binding and assertive opinion on behalf of Ahmet Altan as well as Mehmet Altan by stating that when considered on the whole it would not be possible to assume that the statements by the speakers [on the TV programme] had been made with foreknowledge of the coup attempt that would take place the following day and with the aim to prepare the public for it, nor could these statements be classified as a call for coup d’état.

Another reason for the above opinion focused on the speculations based on the possibility of a group of deputies leaving the ruling party and creating a new political party with a different politician as well as the elections to be held in two years’ time.

The statements below taken from the recordings of the 14 July 2016 television programme were made by applicant Ahmet Altan on the air;

[A.H.A.] … “Erdoğan will lose in two years. The Elections are coming up, no one knows what will happen in the elections two years from now.

[A.H.A.] It’s uncertain but if 50 AKP deputies say, ‘We are joining Meral Akşener in creating a new political party’ and they separate their ways, the whole system shatters.”

5- In the end, we are left with three newspaper columns as the basis of all of the allegations made against the applicant. It is clear that these articles that are critical of the political circumstances are within the scope of freedom of expression and of the press, just as they were found to be so by the TCC in Mehmet Altan’s application.

6- The judgement rendered in Mehmet Altan’s case by the TCC Plenary on 11 January 2018 was applied with precision in this Court’s 20 March 2018 decision on Mehmet Altan.

7- The dissimilarity in the progress of the applications by Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, which resulted from a legal process that began as part of the same court case based on exactly same allegations against both applicants, have caused new rights violations.

On the basis of its procedures and the latest decisions rendered it is sadly clear that the TCC prefers to make new rights’ violations rather than to put an end to existing rights violations.

Beyond the rights and freedoms of Ahmet Altan, Turkey’s democratic system and state of law are under threat. The TCC has lost its function as a viable legal option for seeking remedy.

We request the urgent and prioritized examination of the applicant’s application, without further delay; finding that Articles 5, 10 and 18 of the Convention have been violated.