New petition requests that Constitutional Court take up Altan’s individual application without further delay as Tuesday’s appellate court verdict draws int’l reaction
Lawyers representing Ahmet Altan have filed a petition before the Constitutional Court following Tuesday’s appellate court ruling, requesting that its Plenary immediately take up Altan’s individual application that has been pending before the top court since November 2016.
Lawyers Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu and Melike Polat Bursalı stressed in the petition that the individual application on behalf of Altan, filed almost two years ago, and referred to the Plenary by the 1st Section of the Constitutional Court in July this year, had been pending before the Plenary for the past three months.
The petition comes on the heels of the appellate court ruling on 2 October, which rejected the appeals against the aggravated life sentences for Altan and his co-defendants, including his brother, professor of economics and longtime columnist Mehmet Altan, and veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, on “coup” charges.
The Altans and their co-defendants are accused of sending “subliminal messages” during a television appearance prior to the failed coup attempt of July 2016. The trial court convicted all six defendants of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in February.
The lawyers noted in their petition that the accusations in the case file, i.e. the defendants’ newspaper columns and political commentary on TV, were also regarded as evidence against them, without any other substantial evidence. The lawyers also asserted that the appellate court upheld the trial court’s verdict in spite of the Constitutional Court’s 11 January 2018 ruling in favor of Mehmet Altan, which held that his detention was in violation of his rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
“The fact that the Plenary of the Constitutional Court has yet to take up the application adds to the violations this case involves. Therefore, we request that the Plenary of the Constitutional Court promptly take up the application,” the petition read.
Verdict draws strong reaction from press freedom organizations
In the meantime, representatives from intergovernmental institutions and NGOs advocating freedom of expression and freedom of the press condemned Tuesday’s appellate court ruling.
The verdict “confirms Turkey’s disregard for rule of law,” press freedom organizations said in online messages issued following the hearing.
David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said in a Twitter message that the verdict meant that “Turkey translated journalism as terrorism.”
Kaye wrote: “For all who have watched Turkey translate journalism as terrorism, the feeling of helplessness is acute, especially in the context of the Altan brothers — but tragically, not only them.”
Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, also said in a Twitter message on Wednesday that the appellate court’s ruling was “Very sad news.”
Désir once again called for all jailed journalists to be released and reiterated his earlier statement, in which he was joined by Kaye. “We call on Turkey to reverse today’s decision and release the journalists. Imprisonment for journalism not only silences the journalists, but it also deprives Turkish citizens of their right to access pluralistic views on issues that can directly affect their lives,” Kaye and Désir had said back in February, following the trial court’s ruling.
Council of Europe’s Director of Communications and Spokesperson for the Secretary General Daniel Holtgen also posted a message on Twitter, stressing that despite the Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights rulings, Mehmet Altan and his co-defendants were still facing life sentences.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also issued a message condemning “the draconian sentence of aggravated life imprisonment.”
“These well-known journalists have been subjected to a judicial lynching,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “The prospect of their spending the rest of their days behind bars in the harshest form of isolation is quite simply a disgrace for the Turkish authorities. The international community must redouble its efforts to end the completely arbitrary rule that now prevails in Turkey.”
Verdict marks “end to rule of law in Turkey”
The British human rights organization ARTICLE 19 also condemned Tuesday’s verdict in an online message.
David Diaz-Jogeix, director of programmes at ARTICLE 19, said: “We are seeing an end to the rule of law in Turkey. These convictions are the latest politically- motivated assault on journalists, lawyers, judges and political opponents by the Erdoğan government.
“The judicial system is in crisis, as demonstrated by the failure to give the six defendants a fair trial. Their lawyers have been expelled from hearings, they have been denied the opportunity to see evidence used against them by the prosecutor and there have been different judges at each hearing.”
Diaz-Jogeix urged the European Union to take action: “The European Court of Human Rights has said that domestic remedies must be exhausted before it can issue judgments on cases in Turkey. We can no longer wait. It is time for the European Union to act.”
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) also issued a message.
“The EFJ is appalled by this verdict which confirms Turkey’s disregard for rule of law. The severe charges against journalists were never proven during the investigation, so we reiterate our call to release our jailed colleagues,” said Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the president of the EFJ.