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.

Top court issues judgments in Ahmet Altan case, 13 others

Top court issues judgments in Ahmet Altan case, 13 others

The President of the Constitutional Court and four other judges write in their dissenting opinions that Altan’s pre-trial detention violated his rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression

The Constitutional Court’s Plenary has issued the judgments concerning its 3 May 2019 decisions, in which it rejected the individual applications filed on behalf of jailed journalists Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and former Cumhuriyet staff members including Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık.

All nine applications, filed in 2016 and 2017, asserted that the applicants’ arrests violated their rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The top court’s judgments were published on 26 June 2019 on the court’s official website. The judgments concerning the rejected applications said, in a nutshell, that “the assessments made by the investigation authorities and the decisions rendered by the courts that ruled for [the journalists’] arrests could not be deemed as ‘arbitrary and baseless’.”

In Ahmet Altan’s application, the President of the Constitutional Court Zühtü Arslan, Vice President Engin Yıldırım and three other justices disagreed with the majority opinion. All five judges were of the opinion that Altan’s arrest violated his rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

In his four-page dissenting opinion, Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan wrote that the investigation authorities have “failed to demonstrate relevant and sufficient grounds proving that the contents of Altan’s columns and his commentary, held as evidence against him, constituted strong indication of guilt.”

“Based on several sentences excerpted from two columns by Altan that were included in his investigation file, the investigation authorities have alleged that Altan had prior knowledge of the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and laid the groundwork for a coup, however, the same authorities have failed to provide the factual grounds to prove this claim,” Arslan wrote.

Regarding the allegation in the investigation file that “Taraf newspaper, under Altan’s administration as editor-in-chief, published content in line with the objectives of the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization,” Arslan wrote that the investigation authorities have “also failed to factually demonstrate that the newspaper content that constituted the grounds for Altan’s arrest was published in line with the objectives of the terrorist organization and based on instructions from the said terrorist organization.” 

Vice-President Engin Yıldırım also wrote in his dissenting opinion that among the grounds for Altan’s arrest, there was no evidence factually demonstrating a strong suspicion other than certain expressions and his harsh criticism in his columns and his commentary. Yıldırım wrote: “For certain expressions the applicant has used in some of his columns and his commentary to be deemed ‘strong indication of guilt’ does not amount to anything beyond a speculative assessment.”

Yıldırım wrote that Altan’s columns and commentary that constitute the basis for the accusations “neither laid the groundwork nor called for a coup, but were rather aimed as a warning about the potential chaos which the policies adopted and the discourse employed by certain political figures whom Altan had been harshly criticising could stir and at informing the public about their possible consequences. Yıldırım wrote: “Speaking of a probable coup and supporting a coup are not the same thing. Otherwise, anyone who speaks about the danger of a coup or other internal disturbances could later be accused of laying the groundwork for the coup in the event the coup they had warned of does indeed take place at some point.”

At the end of two days of deliberations on 2 and 3 May, the Constitutional Court’s Plenary had rejected the applications of Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, who is Altan’s co-defendant in the “coup” case, Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık and six former Cumhuriyet Foundation executives, including Önder Çelik and Musa Kart. The judgments issued on 26 June revealed that the Plenary had ruled that Ahmet Şık’s application was “inadmissible.”

The top court had found rights violations in the files of journalists Kadri Gürsel, Murat Aksoy and Ali Bulaç.


Click the links below to see the full text of the Constitutional Court’s judgments (in Turkish):

Ahmet Altan

Nazlı Ilıcak

Murat Sabuncu

Akın Atalay

Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Güray Öz

Ahmet Şık

Murat Aksoy

Kadri Gürsel

Ali Bulaç