Two separate compensation cases brought against Altan heard in Istanbul and Ankara on the same day
An Istanbul court dismissed on 22 May a compensation lawsuit brought against imprisoned journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan by Dursun Çiçek, a retired military commander and a deputy for the opposition Republican People’s Republican Party (CHP), over an article Altan wrote in 2016.
The hearing, fourth in the trial, was held at the Istanbul 22nd Civil Court of First Instance. Çiçek attended the session, along with Altan’s lawyer, Melike Polat.
Speaking at the court session, Çiçek objected to the defense’s argument that the article in question reflected the facts at the time it was written, saying it was impossible for Altan not to know that the documents he cited were not authentic.
Lawyer Melike Polat requested the court to dismiss the case, saying Çiçek had been convicted by a court at the time when Altan wrote his article and that the fact that he was subsequently acquitted did not justify a compensation claim.
Çiçek, for his part, accused Altan of “being one of the main people who caused his arrest and imprisonment for five years through articles he wrote about me in the Taraf newspaper, when he was its chief editor.”
Çiçek, a retired staff colonel, was imprisoned in Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases but was later acquitted after spending years in prison.
Polat said the acquittal decision was issued on 21 April 2016 and that the article in question was written before that decision. Altan stood accused because of his article that was published on 10 April 2016.
Announcing its decision at the end of the hearing, the Istanbul 22nd Civil Court of First Instance ruled for the dismissal of the case.
Court of Cassation case
A second compensation case brought against Altan was heard on the same day in Ankara, at the 4th Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation.
The case was launched by Recep Yıldırım, a former lawmaker for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), over an incriminating news report and some columns by Altan published in the shuttered Taraf newspaper in 2009. The case was originally dismissed by the court of first instance in September 2015 and then it was appealed by Yıldırım’s lawyer.
Yıldırım and his lawyer, as well as Altan’s lawyer Ergin Cinmen attended the court session. Yıldırım’s lawyer said his client’s personal rights were violated thanks to the news story and Altan’s columns and that the unjust suffering must be compensated. “Freedom of press and expression is not limitless. My client does not have to put up with slanders,” he said.
Altan’s lawyer Ergin Cinmen defended the news story and columns, saying they were journalistic activities and noting that the European Court of Human Rights describes the role of the media as a “watchdog” for public interests in its relevant decisions.
Cinmen also noted that the notion of mafia was widely discussed at the time of the writing of the said story and columns and that there were rumors indicating that some members of the plaintiff’s family were involved in mafia activities. “If there are such allegations, then a journalist has the responsibility to report on them,” he said, requesting the supreme court to uphold the verdict of the lower court.
The Court of Cassation’s 4th Civil Chamber will announce its ruling on the case at a later date.