Lower courts refuse to release the journalists, saying detention will be reviewed after top court’s reasoned decision is communicated as government spokesperson slams ruling
Journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, imprisoned for well over a year on “coup” charges, were ordered to stay behind bars on January 11, despite decisions earlier in the day by the Constitutional Court for their release. In the first reaction from the government, Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson Bekir Bozdağ slammed the ruling early Jan. 12, arguing that the Constitutional Court “exceeded” its authority.
Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which oversees the trial of 73-year-old Şahin Alpay, and the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, where Mehmet Altan is on trial for “attempting to overthrow the government” along with his brother Ahmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, both ruled that the detentions would be reviewed after the top court’s reasoned decisions are formally communicated.
The Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court also rejected requests filed by the lawyers of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak for their release on the basis of the Constitutional Court decisions.
Both the 13th and 26th high criminal courts took their decisions to order the continuation of detention of Alpay and Altan with a 2-1 vote as in each case, one of the judges stated that the defendant should be released as per the Constitutional Court decision. The decision to reject requests for the release of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, on the other hand, was taken unanimously.
The Constitutional Court ruled earlier on January 11 that the rights of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, and Turhan Günay, who was released in late July after spending months in prison, were violated as a result of their pre-trial detention.
Ruling on individual applications filed on behalf of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, the court said detentions led to violations of the “right to personal liberty and security” protected under Article 19 of the Constitution and “freedom of expression and the press” protected under articles 26 and 28. The decision was taken by an 11-6 majority vote.
The decision was widely expected to set a precedent for the release of scores of other journalists imprisoned in Turkey.
Deputy Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson promptly reacted via his Twitter account to the ruling early January 12, saying that the Constitutional Court “had exceeded the limits drawn by the law and the constitution.” “The Constitutional Court has acted as a first instance court by making an assessment of the case and the evidences. (...) The Constitutional Court cannot act as a Super Court of Appeals,” said Bozdağ, who has served as Minister of Justice for several years until the latest cabinet reshuffle last July. “The Constitutional Court should not pay regard to the perceptions but the constitution and the law,” he added.
According to the Turkish Constitution’s Article 153, all Constitutional Court rulings enter into force immediately and are binding for the legislative, executive and judicial organs, including the government administration and its officials.
P24 lawyers will further make legal applications to ensure both Altan’s and Alpay’s release upon the top court’s decision.
A total of 151 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey, serving a conviction or held in pre-trial detention, according to a P24 list of journalists in jail.
Altan, a professor of economics and newspaper columnist, was arrested on September 10, 2016, along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, on charges stemming from their alleged links to a network led by Fethullah Gülen, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization, “Fetullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)”, and orchestrating the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016. He was jailed pending trial on September 22, 2016 and is currently charged with “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order”, a crime which carries an aggravated life sentence. Lawyers for Altan filed applications before the Constitutional Court on November 8, 2016, complaining that his rights were violated and seeking their release.
Alpay, a 73-year-old journalist, was arrested on July 27, 2016 as part of an operation targeting former columnists and executives of the shuttered Zaman daily and was imprisoned pending trial on July 31. He is accused of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order, the government and Parliament,” charges carrying three aggravated life sentences, and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization.”