Constitutional Court orders Alpay to be released to eliminate consequences of rights violations

The Plenary of Turkey’s Constitutional Court on March 15, 2018, ruled for a second time that the imprisonment of journalist Şahin Alpay violated his rights to personal liberty and security, two months after rendering a similar judgment. The previous judgment in favor of the 74-year-old political scientist and columnist was given on January 11, 2018 but not implemented by the trial court despite the provisions of the Constitution — a failure to obey the law which prompted Altan’s attorneys to lodge a second application to the top court.

In its ruling on the second application filed on February 1, the top court also found that Alpay should be granted TL 20,000 in compensation for non-pecuniary damages.

The top court’s previous ruling had held that Alpay’s imprisonment on remand constituted a violation of his rights to personal liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. However, Alpay remained behind bars when the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the case in which Alpay is on trial, refused to implement the ruling, saying his detention would be reviewed after the top court’s reasoned decision is formally communicated.

In its March 15 ruling, the Constitutional Court responded to all assertions put forward by the local courts in justifying their reasons for refusing to implement the top court’s previous judgment. To that end, the top court specified in the new ruling that the trial court should do whatever is necessary for the elimination of the violation of the applicant’s rights enshrined under the Article 19 of the Constitution.

The top court also held that the prerequisite for detention as per the Article 19 of the Constitution was the presence of a “strong indication of crime,” adding that the review of this condition was a constitutional requirement in individual applications alleging unlawful detention. This part of the judgment was in reference to the local courts’ claims that in its previous ruling the Constitutional Court had “overstepped the limits of its jurisdiction by reviewing the merits of the case.”

In its unanimous judgment, the top court also asserted that Constitutional Court rulings are “final and binding for everybody, including judicial bodies” as per Article 153 of the Constitution.

The top court held that the lower courts’ refusal to release Şahin Alpay resulted in a violation of his rights to fair trial and personal liberty and security.

The March 15 judgment comes ahead of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the individual applications on behalf of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan. The Strasbourg court stated in a letter to Alpay’s and Altan’s lawyers earlier in March that it would render its judgments concerning the two applications on March 20.

Alpay was expected to be released from the Silivri Prison in the later hours of March 16 after spending 594 days in pretrial detention as part of the ongoing trial against him, in which he and 29 other suspects face three aggravated life sentences on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, the Parliament and the constitutional order. Alpay and others also face an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization.”

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