Istanbul court says request for imprisoned journalist’s release should go to appellate courts

The Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court refused to rule on a request filed by imprisoned journalist Mehmet Altan’s lawyers for his release following a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling on 20 March, saying the case is disposed.

In its decision released on 28 March, the court said it would no longer take up matters concerning Altan’s detention as it has already delivered its verdict on the case. Such matters, it said, should be deferred to the relevant criminal chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, which act as appellate courts.

Altan’s lawyers filed a petition with the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court requesting his release hours after the ECtHR released its judgments on applications filed on behalf of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, a 74-year-old former columnist for the shuttered Zaman newspaper who had been released but placed under house arrest on 17 March.

The Strasbourg court found that there had been a violation of personal liberty and security under Article 5/1 of the European Convention of Human Rights and of freedom of expression under Article 10.

Altan, who was on trial along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak and others, was given an aggravated life sentence on February 16, at the end of his trial at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” The court also ruled for continuation of Altan’s detention awaiting the appeal process.

Altan’s lawyers applied both to the trial court and the Justice Ministry following the ECtHR judgment seeking Altan’s release. The Justice Ministry is yet to respond to the application.

In its decision on 28 March, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court also emphasized that no ECtHR judgment has been communicated through official channels.

In response, Altan’s lawyers applied to the Justice Ministry again on 28 March, requesting that the ECtHR judgment be translated and delivered to relevant authorities.

The lawyers also filed a petition with the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court, the next court of first instance, objecting to the decision of the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court and stating that Altan should be released based on the ECtHR decision.

Before the European Court of Human Rights rulings, the Constitutional Court had similarly found on 11 January that Altan and Alpay’s rights to individual liberty and security and the freedom of expression had been violated as a result of their pre-trial detention. But the lower courts refused to implement the Constitutional Court rulings, saying the top court overstepped its jurisdiction by examining evidence included in the case file.

On 16 March, the Constitutional Court issued a second ruling in Alpay’s case filed after the lower courts refused to release him in line with the first Constitutional Court ruling, this time openly urging the trial court to release Alpay to remedy the violation. Alpay was then released, although he remains under house arrest.

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