Strasbourg-based court announces date of upcoming verdict for the first time

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will issue its judgments concerning imprisoned journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay on March 20, the Strasbourg-based court said over the weekend.

The ECtHR stated in a letter to lawyer Ferat Çağıl, who is among the group of attorneys who lodged the individual applications on behalf of Altan and Alpay before the European Court, that the judgments would be made public on the court’s official website on March 20.

Turkish media reported during the past week based on leaked information that the ECtHR had already rendered its ruling, in which it holds that both Altan and Alpay’s detentions constituted “severe violation” of their rights. Reports have claimed that the court was awaiting judge M. Ergin Ergül, who is replacing Işıl Karakaş from Turkey in both cases on an ad hoc basis, to write his dissenting opinion.

Following Alpay and Mehmet Altan, the ECtHR is expected to shortly render its judgments concerning the individual applications on behalf of journalists Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık, Turhan Günay, Akın Atalay, Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş and Ali Bulaç.

Constitutional Court ruling of January 11 a common point

The common point linking the files of Altan and Alpay is that the trial courts overseeing both journalists’ cases refused to release the journalists pending trial in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s judgments of January 11, which held that the rights of both Altan and Alpay were violated due to their pretrial detentions.

Another common point between the files is that under Rules 28 and 29 of ECtHR’s Rules of Court, judge Işıl Karakaş requested her recusal in both cases.

As of March 3, 2018, Şahin Alpay has spent 580 days, and Mehmet Altan, 526, behind bars in the Silivri Prison.

Altan was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment on February 16 by the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order using force and violence,” however, the court has yet to issue its reasoned verdict. Journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, both awaiting the ECtHR’s ruling concerning their individual applications, were also convicted by the same court on the same charges.

Şahin Alpay, on the other hand, is standing trial in the case publicly known as the “Zaman trial,” in which he faces life imprisonment if convicted. The next hearing in that case is scheduled to take place on April 5.

Defense attorneys representing the 74-year-old Alpay, who is struggling various health issues, have been filing petitions on a monthly basis for his release pending trial, all of which have been rejected.

“Maintaining the functionality of the Constitutional Court”

Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who was among the group of attorneys who lodged the applications on behalf of Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan before the ECtHR, told the P24 concerning the latest development that he would have expected the European Court to render a judgment that the journalists’ rights have absolutely been violated had the Constitution Court of Turkey not already issued its January 11 rulings. “Whereas now, it seems the ECtHR has decided to give priority to specifically the two case files on which the Constitutional Court has already issued rulings. This gives the impression as though the Strasbourg court is trying to both highlight and protect the functionality of the Constitutional Court,” Cengiz said.

Cengiz also noted that in the applications on behalf of both Alpay and the Altan brothers before both the Constitutional Court of Turkey and the European Court it was highlighted that the restrictions on their rights stemmed from their disagreement with the political authority, which constituted a violation of Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). “It is important in this regard what the ECtHR will have to say in respect of Article 18 of the Convention,” Cengiz added.

As to whether the ECtHR might be expected to also mention in its rulings the lower courts’ failure to implement the Constitutional Court rulings concerning Alpay and Altan, Cengiz said a trial court refusing to implement the top court’s judgment would normally mean a breach of Article 6 of the Convention, but added that the applications before the ECtHR were lodged much earlier than those violations.

“Could set a precedent for other journalists” 

As to the question of how the ECtHR might be expected to rule concerning other journalists’ cases pending review, Cengiz said: “Alpay and Altan judgments might serve as pilot judgments. In case the ECtHR renders rulings that set certain criteria [as to the remedies needed to eliminate the violations], then these judgments would become applicable for other journalists from Turkey who have lodged applications before the European court.”