The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to take up an application filed on behalf of renowned writers and journalists, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, “as soon as possible.”
The Altan brothers have been held in an İstanbul prison since late September, awaiting trial on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government” and “being a member of the armed terrorist organization.” The public prosecutor has yet to produce an indictment in the case, and the Constitutional Court has so far failed to rule on an appeal to have the two released.
Arguing that local remedy has thus been exhausted, the Altan’s legal team has applied to the European Court of Human Rights on 12 January. The pair are represented by Veysel Ok of the İstanbul Bar Association, Ergin Cinmen of the Muğla Bar Association, Orhan Kemal Cengiz of the Ankara Bar Association, Philippe Sands and Angeline Welsh of the Bar of England and Wales and British solicitor Tobias Garnett.
Although the applications do not automatically qualify for urgent notification and priority treatment, the court registrar indicated that the case will be examined on a priority basis due to its subject matter.
The application filed with the Strasbourg-based court maintains that the detention of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan constitutes violation of their rights under eight separate articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the Article 3 that covers degrading treatment, the Article 5 on the right to liberty and security and the Article 10 on the freedom of expression.
In a decision released on Nov. 17, 2016, the European Court of Human Rights decided not to examine an application filed on behalf of a Turkish judge, Zeynep Mercan, who was among scores of people detained in the immediate aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15. The court then said it would not rule on the case because the applicant had not exhausted the “domestic remedies.”
Commenting on the latest decision to take up the Altan brothers’ case as soon as possible, Ok said it was significant that this time European court decided otherwise. According to Ok, the court might have rejected to discuss the case, just as it did with the Mercan case, on the ground that the domestic remedies have not yet been exhausted. Instead, it agreed that the issues raised in the applications merited a swift consideration of the case.
The Altans are still waiting on applications lodged with the Turkish Constitutional Court on 8 November 2016 for their release pending trial.
The surge in individual applications in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt has created an unprecedented caseload before the Constitutional Court. Though no exact figure is available officially, about 100,000 applications, an overwhelming majority of which having been filed since July 2016, are believed to be pending before the top court. The court is yet to examine or conclude any of them.
Ahmet Altan’s case was singled out for special comment in a rather forceful report on freedom of expression and the media that was released by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks earlier this month. Commenting on some of the cases involving the detention of journalists, including, in addition to Altan, journalist Ahmet Şık and a group of columnists and managers of the Cumhuriyet daily, the commissioner complained that the judges gave no consideration for freedom of expression in their decisions ordering the journalists’ detention pending trial and the inconsistencies of charges. Recalling charges against Altan that his comments during a television program on the night of July 14, 2016 showed that he had known about the coming coup attempt, the memorandum said the commissioner is “struck … by the hollowness of the charges and the political content of the [detention] decision.”