Turkish novelist and prominent detainee Ahmet Altan has been released after more than four years in prison.
Altan, who has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish authorities, was serving a prison sentence on charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation”. ARTICLE 19 and other human rights organisations regarded the case against him as an act of political revenge based on spurious evidence, with little attention to judicial protocol.
A Turkish appeals court overturned the November 2019 verdict following a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights that said his detention was a violation of his rights.
He was serving a sentence of more than 10 years for the terrorist charges after temporarily being released in 2019 when a previous verdict was overturned.
“ARTICLE 19 welcomes the release of Ahmet Altan, who had been held on trumped-up charges in retaliation for his writing and broadcasts for over 4 and a half years,” said Sarah Clarke, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia Programme. “Altan’s case, from his trial and re-trial to his prolonged detention, were arbitrary, and exposed the Turkish government’s use of the courts as a tool to silence critics and free speech.
“We call on the Turkish authorities to free the many other writers, journalists and activists jailed for exercising their right to free speech, and to uphold this right for all of its citizens. Approximately 72 journalists and media workers remain behind bars in Turkey, despite the country’s commitments under the European Convention of Human Rights, which is binding according to the Turkish Constitution.”
The novelist was initially charged with involvement in an attempted coup in 2016. The Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his case — and the life in prison sentence — in July 2019, recommending a trial the new charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation”.
He was released at the end of his re-trial pending the appeal of his sentence to 10 years and 6 months in jail in November 2019, but re-arrested after just one week of freedom. Notably the Court’s decision to re-arrest him was not formally communicated to Altan’s defence lawyers, who instead learned about the ruling through the pro-government media.
ARTICLE 19 has been campaigning on the case since Altan’s initial arrest in September 2016, submitted an expert opinion to the court in the first trial, and intervened with other organisations on the European Court of Human Rights case. ARTICLE 19 also monitored the trial and the re-trial where he was given long prison sentences after no concrete or individualised evidence of his involvement in a crime had been presented. His case has been emblematic of the systematic judicial harassment used to silence critical voices in Turkey.
ARTICLE 19’s thoughts are with Altan and his family as he recuperates from his extended detention, and with all prisoners suffering in Turkish prisons as a result of the Turkish authorities’ crack-down on dissent and opposition.