Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay’s lawyers: “President’s words should be followed, top court rulings should not be ignored”

Lawyers representing imprisoned journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay issued a public statement on March 7, 2018, in which they voiced their support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks the previous day in which he said rulings by the higher judicial bodies should be obeyed.

Erdoğan said in his March 6 address that they have at times criticized court decisions, including those rendered by the Constitutional Court, but that he has “never ignored these rulings and hesitated in implementing them.”

Lawyers Ergin Cinmen, Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, Ferat Çağıl and Melike Polat said in their joint statement that Erdoğan’s speech highlighted how the judicial system should be functioning. Noting that the Constitutional Court rulings concerning Altan and Alpay have not been implemented, the lawyers said: “It is our duty to remind the courts that refuse to implement the Constitutional Court rulings that they have responsibility before history and law.

Here is an English translation of the lawyers’ statement, issued in Turkish:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during his speech on March 6 during a symposium on the 150th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Appeals and ground laying ceremony:“There have been times we criticized the decisions of our courts, our higher judicial institutions and our Constitutional Court. We will continue to do that. But we have never ignored these decisions. We have never hesitated to fulfill their requirements. Criticizing is one thing, but being subject to is another. We certainly reserve the right to criticize when we are of a different opinion regarding the institution of justice. We are not in doubt over whether to obey these or not. Like everybody else, we too obey the decisions rendered by the courts, and we will continue doing so. 

As the defense lawyers representing Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay we find President Erdoğan’s remarks highly remarkable and to the point. Mr. President has offered a definition of how the judicial system, the law and justice should be working. However, sadly in practice in our country, what has been going on with regard to courts is not in line with this definition. On January 11, 2018, a first in Turkey’s legal history occurred and the courts of first instance refused to implement two separate judgments by the Plenary of the Constitutional Court concerning Professor Mehmet Altan and Dr Şahin Alpay.

The Plenary of the Constitutional Court reviewed the case files via UYAP. After seeing the prosecutor’s final opinion in Professor Altan’s case and reviewing all the evidence in the case file, the Constitutional Court ruled that there were no substantial grounds necessitating arrest. Despite this, the courts of first instance, in violation of the Constitution, refused to implement the requirements of this judgment, moreover, sentencing Altan to aggravated life imprisonment in a case file which did not include any substantial evidence sufficient for arrest.

Despite the President’s words, “We have never ignored top court rulings,” the 26th and 27th High Criminal Courts of Istanbul (regarding Mehmet Altan’s case) and the 13th and 14th High Criminal Courts of Istanbul (regarding Şahin Alpay’s case) ignored both the Constitution and the Constitutional Court repeatedly each time they rejected our petitions.

We call on the courts to obey the rule of law and the Constitution. Taking Mr. President’s words, “We have never hesitated to fulfill the requirements of the rulings of the Constitutional Court, we have never ignored these rulings, we are not in doubt over whether to obey these or not, like everybody else, we too obey the decisions rendered by the courts, and we will continue doing so,” as a basis, we expect the courts to obey the judgments of the Plenary of the Constitutional Court and the elimination of the rights violations by ruling for the journalists release from prison.

The Constitutional Court is the image of the European Court of Human Rights in Turkey. And the Constitutional Court has held that in both applications, the applicants’ rights have been violated. The European Court of Human Rights has announced that it will issue its judgments concerning the applications on behalf of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay on March 20, 2018. It is highly likely that the European Court of Human rights too will find rights violations.

The current phase in the process is a fateful one; we consider it our duty to remind once more the judicial and historical responsibility of the courts that refuse to implement the requirements of the Constitutional Court judgments.

Att. Ergin Cinmen, Att. Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, Att. Ferat Çağıl, Att. Melike Polat

March 7, 2018