Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales report on Altans’ trial raises concern over fair trial
Pete Weatherby QC, who attended the first hearing of the trial in June in Istanbul and authored the trial observation report on behalf of BHRC, reiterated similar concerns in an article published on The Independent on the same day the report was announced at an event in London.
“Based on BHRC observations, the Altan and Others prosecutions raise serious concerns about fair trial rights and the rule of law in Turkey. Such concerns include the role of the judiciary, its independence and relationship with the prosecution, a lack of sufficient access to defence lawyers during pre-trial detention, insufficient pre-trial disclosure and a lack of sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case to warrant continued detention and prosecution,” said the report, adding that “The proceedings had the appearance of a ‘show trial’.”
The first hearing of the trial in which the Altan brothers, Ilıcak and 14 others face multiple life sentences was held at Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court on June 19-23. Ahmet and Mehmet Altan have been in prison for a year now, while Ilıcak has been jailed for even longer, since July 2016.
Ahmet Altan, a renowned novelist and journalist, Mehmet Altan, an academic and columnist, and Ilıcak, a 73-year-old seasoned journalist and political commentator, are charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”, “attempting to overthrow the Parliament” and “attempting to overthrow the government,” charges carrying three aggravated life sentences. They also face an additional prison term of 15 years on the charge of “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member.”
The second hearing of the case will be held next week, on September 19.
The BHRC report says that in addition to this trial, the detention and prosecution of scores of journalists “on spurious charges of supporting the coup represents a sustained and serious attack on freedom of expression.”
According to the report, “mass detentions and trials, the huge number of dismissals, the continuance of the state of emergency, changes to the constitution to vastly increase executive power, and the suppression of opposition – has done precisely that which the government charges the alleged plotters: diminished the rule of law and substantially undermined the democratic institutions.”
Based on its findings, BHRC also recommended the government and judiciary to:
- “Honour constitutional and international commitments to the rule of law and fundamental rights and protections;
- Re-evaluate whether the state of emergency remains necessary;
- Introduce measures to reinstate the independence of the judiciary and prosecution;
- Release all those detained in the aftermath of the coup and discontinue charges unless there is clear and substantial evidence of actual criminality whereupon bail provisions should be properly implemented;
- Make a public commitment to ensure that freedom of expression is robustly protected and that journalists will be safeguarded from arrest and prosecution for investigating, reporting and commenting on issues of the day.”
Full text of the report can be read here.
“Outrageous affront to freedom of expression”
In an article published on The Independent on the same day as the report, BHRC’s Weatherby called the Altans’ case “a clear and outrageous affront to freedom of expression.”
Calling Altans and Ilıcak as “all well-known secularist, liberal journalists, academics and writers in their 60s and 70s,” the article noted that they were accused of sending “subliminal messages” to the coup plotters in a current affairs TV program that the day before the coup attempt.
“The reality of the coming court appearance of the Altan brothers and others is that it is a show trial being held to render opposition to the President illegal,” Weatherby wrote in the article. “It is a clear and outrageous affront to freedom of expression, which is ostensibly protected by Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution and by various international legal instruments by which Turkey is bound – including Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”