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.

Ahmet Altan rearrested 1 week after his release

Ahmet Altan rearrested 1 week after his release

Altan was sent back to prison on 13 November following his rearrest Tuesday night based on a warrant issued by the 27th High Criminal Court, which accepted the prosecutor’s objection to his release pending appeal last week


Novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan was sent back to prison on 13 November 2019, only one week after his release pending appeal. Altan was rearrested on 12 November after the prosecution objected to his release last week at the end of the retrial of the “coup” case against him and his five co-defendants.

Altan, who was released from prison late on 4 November after spending more than three years in detention on remand as part of the case, was taken to the Istanbul Police Department on Tuesday night. Altan remained in custody until Wednesday, when he was taken to the Istanbul Courthouse and appeared before the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which ordered his rearrest.

Last week, at the end of the second hearing of the retrial of Altans case, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul had convicted Altan and four of his co-defendants in the case of terrorism-related charges. Ahmet Altan was handed down a prison sentence of 10 years and 6 months on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Taking into consideration the time he spent in pre-trial detention, the court had ruled to release Altan under an international travel ban.

Altan was rearrested at around 9 p.m. on Tuesday night at his Istanbul home, several hours after the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, the next court of first instance tasked with reviewing the 26th High Criminal Court’s decisions, issued a warrant for Altan as it revoked the 26th High Criminal Court’s order for Altan’s release based on an objection by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The 27th High Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Altan on the grounds that "the judicial control measures imposed on him" remained "insufficient considering flight risk … the intensity of his actions, the duration of the prison sentence he was given, the time he spent in detention on remand … as well as his conduct following his release.”

The court rendered its ruling on Tuesday afternoon. News of the arrest warrant against Altan was made public by the pro-government Sabah daily and the state-run Anadolu news agency.

International condemnation 

News of Altan’s rearrest triggered an immediate wave of reaction from around the world, with David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, calling Altan’s rearrest “truly shocking.” “Ahmet Altan released by court order in Turkey. Erdoğan objects. Now Altan faces imminent re-arrest. How to describe other than as an abuse of law, power, process,” Kaye wrote on Twitter.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic tweeted: “Like many others, I am appalled by the senseless cruelty that Turkish courts displayed once more by detaining Ahmet Altan again. He should immediately be released.”

Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, issued a statement, in which he said he was "appalled by the decision to re-arrest Ahmet Altan one week after he was released." "This is a terrible setback and can only deepen the media freedom crisis in the country. I call for the decision to be reversed," Désir wrote on Twitter.

In his statement posted online on OSCE's website, Désir wrote: “Arresting Altan again is a terrible setback and a reason for serious concern, especially if we take into account the length of the judicial process against him and the fact that he has already spent three years in pre-trial detention.” The Representative added that the re-arrest of Altan can only deepen the media freedom crisis and increase the feeling of legal insecurity within the media community. “I repeat my call to reverse this decision and ensure that journalists are protected and free to do their job,” Désir stressed.

London-based freedom of expression organization ARTICLE 19 tweeted: “Ahmet Altan is being rearrested now after only one week of freedom. This is a shame on Turkey and a dark day for justice. This judicial harassment must not continue. #FreeAhmetAltan.”

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19 said: “Ahmet Altan was unjustly imprisoned for over three years while defending himself against trumped up coup charges. Re-arresting him just a week after his release amounts to psychological torture. Refusing to tell his lawyer whether or not he will be arrested adds insult to injury. The whole situation is horribly reminiscent of his release and re-arrest in September 2016. Just as then, Altan has criticised the Turkish authorities following his release and they appear to be determined to punish him for this. The terrorism charges against Altan have always been politically motivated and the entire case lacks even a shred of credible evidence. The Turkish authorities must immediately cease this cruel judicial harassment of Altan.”

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) wrote on Twitter: “Ahmet Altan is being re-arrested right now, after being released only last week. BHRC is very concerned about the personal impact of this on Mr. Altan, & his loved ones, and also more widely about the grave abuse of power implications for Turkey's democracy and the rule of law.”

Schona Jolly QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales, who have been monitoring the Altans trial, said: “BHRC has expressed serious concerns throughout this trial both about the fairness of this trial and about the impact of such prosecution, based on hopeless grounds and without sufficient or credible evidence, on the right to free expression in Turkey. The welcome release of Ahmet Altan does not alter the fact that we consider there was not sufficient or proper basis for his conviction, or to hold him in pre-trial detention for over three years. Re-arresting him now, following his public criticism of the Turkish authorities upon his release, has all the appearance of a further abuse of power, by way of politically-motivated and/or judicial harassment.  In the wider context of the mass arrest and prosecution of journalists, civil society and political opponents – cases which BHRC has been observing – this step now appears to be part of a broader attempt to stifle and silence critical opposition and free expression in Turkey’s democracy, by using and abusing the legal process.”

English PEN tweeted: “Last week we joined colleagues around the world in welcoming the release of writer Ahmet Altan after more than three years in detention in Turkey. Tonight we come together once again to condemn his re-arrest.”

Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, who conducted an interview with Altan last week, tweeted: “The Turkish writer Ahmet Altan could be re-arrested after a week of freedom because a new arrest warrant is out for him. This practice has a specific name: torture. Europe has to offer political asylum to Ahmet Altan immediately.”

The trial

Ahmet Altan was first arrested on 10 September 2016 along with his brother, Mehmet Altan, over alleged links with the Gülen network. The indictment claimed that all seven defendants in the original trial had prior knowledge of the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, which the government says was masterminded by the Fethullah Gülen network.

In February 2018, at the end of the Altans trial, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced six defendants in the case, including Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” 

The retrial of the case, which concluded on 4 November 2019, followed on the heels of a Supreme Court of Appeals judgment in July 2019 that overturned the aggravated life imprisonment sentences and ruled that Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should instead be charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” Mehmet Altan should be acquitted, and their three co-defendants should be charged with “membership in a terrorist group.”