Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics and a columnist, was arrested on Sept. 10, 2016, along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, a well-known novelist and journalist, on charges stemming from their alleged links to a network led by Fethullah Gülen, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization, “FETÖ/PDY”, and orchestrating the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
Altan, like his brother Ahmet Altan, was initially accused of sending “subliminal messages” in support of the failed coup. After 12 days in police custody, Altan was brought before the İstanbul 10th Criminal Judgeship of Peace on Sept. 22. The judge ordered him be jailed pending trial on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government,” “membership in the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization” and “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
The prosecutor claimed that Altan had known about the coup attempt beforehand, based on his remarks on private broadcaster Can Erzincan TV on the night of July 14. He also said that the fact that he had worked for media outlets allegedly linked to the Gülenist network, that he had an account at the Bank Asya and that a one-dollar banknote found in his home were proof that he is a member of the banned group. Bank Asya was taken over by the state and later closed down over its links to the Gülen movement while prosecutors say possession of one-dollar bills distributed by Gülen or another senior leader of the group indicate a person’s membership and status within the Gülenist network. Altan denied all accusations.
Lawyers for Altan and his brother, Ahmet Altan, filed separate applications with the Turkish Constitutional Court on November 8, 2016, complaining that their rights were violated and seeking their release. The lawyers applied to the European Court of Human Rights on January 12, again separately for each brother.
In February 2017, the Strasbourg court said it would discuss Altan’s case as soon as possible.
On April 14, 2017, state news agency Anadolu reported that an indictment against Altan brothers and 15 other people was sent to the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court. The prosecutor seeks three aggravated life sentences and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for Altan brothers as well as Nazlı Ilıcak, a veteran journalist who attended the July 14, 2016 television program along with them, for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament and the government” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being members.”
Full text of the indictment against Altan and other defendants — in Turkish — can be accessed here.
Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan, Ilıcak and four other defendants appeared before judges at Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court for the first hearing of the case on June 19-23. In his defense statement to the court, Altan defended his statements included in the indictment as evidence for the prosecutor’s claim that he knew about the coup and thus was in collaboration with the coup plotters, saying he had defended the rule of law and warned against unlawful actions that might invite further unlawfulness.
Altan’s defense statement presented to the court on June 21 can be read here.
The panel of judges announcing an interim ruling at the end of the five-day hearing ruled to keep all of the six imprisoned defendants, including Altan, in pre-trial detention.
On September 19, 2017, at the second hearing of his trial, Altan said there was no evidence supporting the prosecution’s accusations that he had known about the coup attempt before hand and described the indictment as a “shameful document.”
Full text of Altan’s statement to the court on September 19 can be read here.
The court again ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants, including Altan, behind bars at the end of the second hearing, citing, among others, the gravity of the charges, length of the prison term that the charges carry and the possibility that the defendants might flee.
The third hearing in the trial was held on November 13. At the end of the trial, where all four of the Altan brothers’ lawyers were expelled from the courtroom for trying to speak on procedural issues, the court again decided to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars. A summary of the hearing can be read here.
The fourth hearing in his trial was held on December 11, 2017.
On January 11, 2018, the Constitutional Court rendered its judgment concerning the individual application lodged on behalf of Mehmet Altan, ruling that his pretrial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security, and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. However, the trial court refused to implement the top court’s judgment.
The full text of the Constitutional Court ruling on Altan’s individual application (in Turkish) can be accessed here.
The fifth and final hearing in the case was held on February 12-16. The first session of the hearing was held in Çağlayan Courthouse in downtown Istanbul but the trial was then moved to Silivri at the decision of the presiding judge.
Mehmet Altan presented his final defense statement on the second day of the hearing. Beginning his statement by recalling the Constitutional Court ruling concerning his individual application, Altan said the top court’s ruling had held that the evidence against him were not sufficient even for his detention, but that he was “still being forcibly kept in prison” because two members of the trial court violated Article 153 of the Constitution, which stipulates that Constitutional Court rulings are binding. Altan’s defense statement was interrupted several times by the chief judge and he skipped some parts of it after repeated warnings from the judge.
Full text of Altan’s defense statement can be accessed here.
The court announced its verdict at the end of the five-day hearing on February 16, sentencing Altan and five other co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” Altan’s lawyers appealed the ruling.
On June 27, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice ruled for Mehmet Altan’s release from prison.
In its ruling concerning the commencement of proceedings as part of the appeal process, the chamber cited the Constitutional Court’s January 11 ruling in favor of Altan as the grounds for his release.
Altan will be subject to an overseas travel ban and judicial control in the form of reporting to the local police station to give his signature once a week.
The regional court will hear the case on September 21, 2018.