Press release

Turkey: Ahmet Altan’s Release Sets Important Precedent for Political Prisoners

The Turkish courts should similarly rectify other cases of wrongful detention.

In response to novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan’s release from detention on April 14, following a judgment in his favor from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Freedom House issued the following statement:

“We welcome the decision of Turkey’s Court of Cassation to order Ahmet Altan’s release in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Altan, like so many other writers, scholars, activists, and journalists in Turkey, was detained simply for exercising his fundamental right to free expression. He should never have been arrested in the first place. We hope that this will mark a turning point for the Turkish judiciary in following the rulings of the ECtHR, as Turkey has obligated itself to do. It is time for the country’s courts to release other prominent political prisoners, including Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, who remain in detention despite multiple ECtHR rulings ordering their release and determining that their rights have been violated.”

Background:

On April 14, prominent novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan was released after the Court of Cassation overturned the conviction against him. Altan had been behind bars for almost five years on charges related to the 2016 coup attempt. The Court of Cassation delivered its ruling a day after the ECtHR found that Turkey had violated Altan’s rights and ordered the state to pay him €16,000 ($19,000) in nonpecuniary damages. Turkey is still the second biggest jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 37 journalists in prison in the country as of December 2020.

In several instances, the Turkish authorities have not implemented the judgments of the ECtHR, including those pertaining to philanthropist Osman Kavala (imprisoned since November 2017) and former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) cochair Selahattin Demirtaş (imprisoned since November 2016). The ECtHR issued judgments in favor of both men, in December 2019 and December 2020, respectively, on grounds similar to those in Altan’s case, ordering the prisoners’ immediate release.

Turkey is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020.