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.

Lawyer says Ahmet Altan should be freed after judicial reform

Lawyer says Ahmet Altan should be freed after judicial reform

Trial will be a test case to reveal whether the reform is really an attempt to free expression, lawyer Çalıkuşu says in petition to court


Lawyer for imprisoned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother, academic and journalist Mehmet Altan, has asked the court for acquittal of both and release of Ahmet Altan, who has been jailed for over three years, ahead of the second hearing in retrial of their case next week.

In petitions to the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, which oversees the trial, lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan should be acquitted under the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights decisions. Ahmet Altan, she said should be released immediately as per an amendment introduced to Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, which states that “expressions of thought that fall within bounds of criticism or for reporting purposes cannot be prosecuted.”

“Whether this amendment was passed as a sincere attempt to free thought in line with the Constitution or to create a false impression will be tested at this case,” Çalıkuşu said in her petition submitted to the court earlier this week.

The Altan brothers are among the six defendants of a “coup” case, who were all convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in February 2018. Other defendants in the case are veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, former Zaman art director Fevzi Yazıcı, the newspaper’s marketing director Yakup Şimşek and political commentator and former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül.

But the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions this summer and the case file returned to the trial court. The Supreme Court of Appeals said in its decision that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should be charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” while Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül should be charged with “membership in a terrorist group.” All five have been in detention on remand for more than three years as part of this case. The Supreme Court ruled that Mehmet Altan, who remained in pre-trial detention for nearly two years as part of the case before being released in June 2018 based on a Constitutional Court judgment, should be acquitted.

In its first hearing held on 8 October, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court ruled to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeals decision. The second hearing of the retrial is scheduled for 4 November 2019. The prosecutor is expected to submit his final opinion on the case, which includes charges against the defendants, to the court at the hearing. It remains to be seen if the prosecutor would choose to integrate the judicial reform into his final opinion.

The reform package

The judicial reform package, which was passed in Parliament on 18 October 2019 and formally went into force on 24 October, has so far resulted in release of at least nine journalists who were given less than five years in prison mostly on terrorism-related charges. One of the clauses of the judicial reform package specifies that those who were given less than five years in jail will also have the right to take their cases to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Lawyers in the Sözcü newspaper case, where the owner, journalists and columnists of the case are charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member,” argued at the latest hearing this week that the prosecutor should review the charges in light of the amendment in the Anti-Terror Law and the court agreed to ask the prosecutor to review the case file with a view to changing his final opinion.

“No ground for prosecution”

In an earlier petition to the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, lawyer Çalıkuşu said Ahmet Altan, who has been in jail since September 2016, should be released immediately, without waiting for the next court hearing, under the amendment to the Anti-Terror Law.

Çalıkuşu said in that petition that the Supreme Court of Appeals decision was issued before the judicial reform package was passed, adding that the amendment that stipulates that expressions of thought for purposes of criticism cannot be criminalized should be taken into consideration.

“This amendment … has a direct bearing on the situation of Ahmet Altan, who stands accused of expressing his thoughts,” Çalıkuşu said, adding that the amendment makes it clear that Altan has committed no action that could be prosecuted.

“The pre-trial detention, that has been ongoing for over 37 months, on account of expression of thoughts for purposes of criticism should be ended without delay and [Ahmet Altan] should be released immediately. A decision on the contrary would run counter to the will of the legislature, as well as the motive and purpose of the reform,” she said.

In her second petition dated 30 October, Çalıkuşu said the accusations against both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan stem from their thoughts, with their expressions used as evidence for charges.

“In short, ideas that are not favored are deemed to be a crime and are sought to be imprisoned, thereby stifling and destroying [critical] thoughts,” she said.