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.

“Politics without criticism is tyranny”

“Politics without criticism is tyranny”

Renowned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan appeared on Tuesday before an Istanbul court to present his defense in an “insult” case.

Altan, who is charged with “insulting the president” in a number of cases, attended the hearing at the Istanbul 30th Penal Court of First Instance through videoconference system SEGBIS from Silivri Prison, where he is held in pre-trial detention in a different case.

Altan is accused of “insulting the president” in an article titled “Yeni Ergenekon” (New Ergenekon), which was published in Punto24 Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) website on June 13, 2016. He faces up to 4 years and 8 months in jail under Article 299 of the Turkish Criminal Code.

Altan said in his defense that the article did not contain any insult or personal reference, insisting instead, that it expresses criticism of certain policies and those who implement these policies.

Maintaining that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be criticized just like anyone who is involved in politics for his political actions, Altan said: “Tyranny is what’s left if you remove criticism from politics.”

Altan also criticized the indictment for mentioning that views or ideas, including those that may "shock, offend or disturb" are also covered by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protecting the freedom of expression, but then insisting that he committed the crime of “insulting the president,” despite this principle. “The prosecutor positions himself above the Constitution by referring to the Convention in an ‘even though’ form,” Altan told the court.

The court decided to adjourn the trial to September 28 at the end of the hearing, which was not attended by Erdogan’s lawyers.

Altan has been in pre-trial detention since September 2016, awaiting trial in a case in which he is charged with “attempting to overthrow the government, Parliament and the constitutional order” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” on the basis of some of his comments during a television program that aired on July 14, 2016, the fact that he edited the now-defunct Taraf newspaper and his three columns. Altan faces three aggravated life sentences on coup charges and an additional prison term of up to 15 years on terrorism charges.

Altan’s lawyers filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights after Turkey’s Constitutional Court did not respond to an individual application filed on his behalf. The Strasbourg court has decided to review the application as soon as possible.