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.

Mehmet Altan

Mehmet Altan

Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics and a columnist, was arrested on 10 September 2016, along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, a well-known novelist and journalist, on charges stemming from alleged ties with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization (“FETÖ/PDY”) and orchestrating the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Altan, like his brother Ahmet Altan, was initially accused of sending “subliminal messages” in support of the failed coup. After 12 days in police custody, Altan was brought before the Istanbul 10th Criminal Judgeship of Peace on 22 September 2016. The judgeship jailed Mehmet Altan pending trial on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government,” “membership in the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.”

The prosecutor claimed that Altan had known about the coup attempt beforehand based on his remarks on private broadcaster Can Erzincan TV on the night of 14 July 2016. He also said that the fact that he had worked for media outlets allegedly linked to the Gülenist network, that he had an account at Bank Asya and that a one-dollar bill found in his home were proof that he was a member of the group. Bank Asya was taken over by the state and later closed over ties with the Gülen movement while prosecutors say possession of one-dollar bills allegedly distributed by Gülen or another senior leader of the group indicate a person’s membership and status within the network. Altan denied all accusations.

Lawyers representing Mehmet and Ahmet Altan filed separate applications with the Constitutional Court against their imprisonment pending trial on 8 November 2016, requesting their release. The lawyers also lodged separate applications with the European Court of Human Rights on 12 January 2017.

In February 2017, the Strasbourg court said it would review Mehmet Altan’s application as soon as possible.

On 14 April 2017, state-run news agency Anadolu reported that an indictment against Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and 15 other people had been issued and sent to the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court. The prosecutor sought three aggravated lifetime imprisonment sentences and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, who was also among commentators in a political discussion show that aired on 14 July 2016 on Can Erzincan TV, for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Parliament and the government” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member.”

The indictment against Altan and other defendants (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan, Ilıcak and four other defendants appeared before the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court for the first hearing of the case on 19-23 June 2017. In his defense statement, Mehmet Altan asserted that his commentary was aimed at defending the rule of law and warning against unlawful acts that could pave the way for further unlawfulness.

Altan’s defense statement presented to the court on 21 June 2017 can be accessed here.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the five-day hearing, the court ruled to keep all six imprisoned defendants, including Mehmet Altan, in pre-trial detention.

On 19 September 2017, at the second hearing of his trial, Altan said there was no evidence supporting the prosecution’s accusations that he had known about the coup attempt beforehand and described the indictment as a “shameful document.”

The full text of Altan’s statement can be accessed here.

The court ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars, citing, among other reasons, "the gravity of the charges, the length of the prison term the charges carry and flight risk."

The third hearing was held on 13 November 2017. During the hearing, all four lawyers representing Mehmet and Ahmet Altan were expelled from the courtroom for trying to address the court regarding procedural problems. The court decided to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars. A summary of the hearing can be found here.

The fourth hearing was held on 11 December 2017. The prosecutor submitted his final opinion during the hearing, seeking aggravated life imprisonment sentences for six of the defendants on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The prosecutor sought up to three years in prison for the seventh defendant, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the owner of an advertising agency hired by Zaman newspaper, on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

The fifth and final hearing was held between 12-16 February 2018. The first session of the hearing was held at the Istabul Courthouse but the remaining four sessions of the hearing were moved to a courtroom inside the Silivri Prison complex by a decision of the presiding judge.

Mehmet Altan made his final defense statement on the second day of the hearing. Beginning his statement by recalling the Constitutional Court judgment, Altan said the top court’s ruling held that the evidence against him was not even sufficient for his detention, but that he was still being forcibly kept in prison because two members of the trial court violated Article 153 of the Constitution, which stipulates that Constitutional Court rulings are binding. Altan’s defense statement was interrupted several times by the presiding judge and he skipped some parts of his statement after repeated warnings from the judge.

The full text of Mehmet Altan’s defense statement can be found here.

The court rendered its judgment at the end of the five-day hearing on 16 February 2018, sentencing Mehmet Altan and five of his co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” Altan’s lawyers appealed the sentence.

Constitutional Court judgment

On 11 January 2018, the Constitutional Court issued its judgment on Mehmet Altan's application, ruling that his pre-trial detention violated his right to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. However, both the trial court and the next court of first instance rejected numerous petitions by Altan’s lawyers requesting his release pending trial, therefore refusing to implement the top court’s judgment.

The full text of the Constitutional Court's Mehmet Altan judgment (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

European Court of Human Rights judgment

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered its judgment on Mehmet Altan's application. The Strasbourg court found that there had been a violation of Altan’s rights to liberty and security under Article 5/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and his right to freedom of expression under Article 10.

The ECtHR said there was no need to examine separately the complaint under Article 18 of the Convention, under which Altan complained that he had been detained for expressing critical opinions about the government.

Released by appellate court based on Constitutional Court judgment

On 27 June 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice ruled for Mehmet Altan’s release from pre-trial detention. In its ruling concerning the commencement of proceedings as part of the appeal process, the chamber cited the Constitutional Court’s 11 January 2018 judgment as the grounds for Altan's release.

Altan will be subject to an overseas travel ban and a judicial control measure in the form of reporting to the local police station to give his signature once a week.

The appellate court set 21 September 2018 as the date for the appeal hearing.

During the first hearing, six defendants made their defense statements before the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. The prosecutor then submitted their final opinion, asking the court to reject the appeal requests.

During the final hearing on 2 October 2018, six defendants made their statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.

The afternoon session got underway with Mehmet Altan’s statement. Asserting that his detention was in violation of the Constitution, Altan said the aggravated life imprisonment sentence given by the trial court was also a similar violation and added that the trial court’s refusal to implement the Constitutional Court judgment marked a first in the history of law in Turkey. Altan said that his release by the appellate court was proof of his wrongful arrest and pre-trial detention. Altan added that the prosecutor’s final opinion was unconstitutional, explaining that the Penal Code contained no provision setting out a criminal element called “immaterial force,” an expression used by the prosecutor in their final opinion.

The full text of Mehmet Altan’s defense statement (in Turkish) can be accessed here.

Rendering its judgment at the end of the hearing, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeals against the aggravated lifetime imprisonment sentences given by the trial court and ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case.

Supreme Court of Appeals overturns sentences

Lawyers representing the defendants took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

On 8 January 2019, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals issued their judicial opinion to the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, requesting the reversal of the trial court’s judgment.

The Office of the General Prosecutor said in their judicial opinion that Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” instead of the much serious “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” charge. The judicial opinion asserted that “force and violence” were the essential elements of the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as prescribed in TCK 309, adding that the concepts of “immaterial force” or “threat” were unacceptable in proving this charge in respect of the principle of legality.

On 5 July 2019, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the judgment rendered by the trial court regarding Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and three of their co-defendants. The Chamber ruled that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted, citing lack of sufficient and credible evidence. As for Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, the court said they should face the lesser charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

The decision said it could not be proven that the defendants had participated in the crime of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as perpetrators. It said that the case file also failed to offer evidence that Altan and Ilıcak were members of what it called the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization; had organic ties with the hierarchical structure of the group; and were involved in activities that represent a certain degree of continuity, diversity and frequency sufficient to be regarded as qualifying for membership.

The case was sent to the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court for retrial.


The trial court issued a preliminary proceedings report on 18 July 2019, in which it ruled for Mehmet Altan, who was released by a decision of the appellate court, to be “forcibly brought to the hearing.” The court also rejected the requests for Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and their three co-defendants, Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, to be released pending trial.

In an interim ruling on 24 July 2019, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court revoked an earlier decision to forcibly bring Mehmet Altan to the first hearing of the re-trial, scheduled for 8 October 2019.

The retrial got underway on 8 October 2019 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court. At the end of the hearing, the court decided to abide by the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment and to keep the five imprisoned defendants in pre-trial detention. The court adjourned until 4 November 2019.


The second hearing of the retrial took place on 4 November 2019. Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court ruled in line with the prosecutor’s final opinion and acquitted Mehmet Altan of all charges due to a lack of credible and conclusive evidence against him. The court lifted the judicial control measures imposed on Mehmet Altan.

The court sentenced Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and ruled to release both, taking into consideration the time they spent in pre-trial detention. The three remaining defendants in the case -- Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül -- were each sentenced for “membership in a terrorist organization” and the court ordered the continuation of their detention.

As a result, Mehmet Altan spent 1 year and 9 months in pre-trial detention in Silivri Prison from September 2016 until June 2018 as part of a case where he was eventually acquitted.

Application for reinstatement

Mehmet Altan was dismissed from his post as a professor of economics with the Istanbul University through a statutory decree after the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office filed charges against him and his brother. 

An application Mehmet Altan had filed with the State of Emergency Measures Inquiry Commission ("OHAL" Commission) seeking his reinstatement was rejected in December 2018. The reasoning cited in the Commission’s decision dated 6 December 2018 was that the legal proceedings against Altan were still ongoing as well as an administrative report about Altan. Altan was notified of the decision on 8 January 2019 -- more than a month after the commission’s decision.

Upon receiving the notification, Altan and his lawyer petitioned against the commission's president and its members on the grounds that the decision had been rendered without waiting for the conclusion of the legal proceedings against him. The petition, filed by lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu, claimed that the OHAL Commission violated the Constitution and that they should be made to stand trial for misconduct.

Click here to read Mehmet Altan’s answers to our questionnaire about prison conditions.