Press release November 12, 2019
Turkey: US Officials Should Press for the Protection of Freedom of Expression
US officials should advocate for freedom of expression in Turkey during Erdoğan’s visit to Washington, DC.
In response to the re-arrest of journalist Ahmet Altan ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington, DC, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“US officials should use the occasion of President Erdoğan’s visit to press for protection of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey, including the release of all journalists, media workers, civil society activists, and political leaders who are held unjustly in Turkey’s prisons,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Freedom House’s Europe and Eurasia programs. “The re-arrest of journalist Ahmet Altan only one week after he was released from prison shows the arbitrariness of the current system. Meanwhile, scores of other journalists and media workers remain behind bars. All people in Turkey should be allowed to exercise their fundamental right to free expression without the fear of facing criminal charges.”
On November 5, Ahmet Altan, cofounder of the independent news outlet P24, and renowned journalist Nazlı Ilıcak were provisionally released from prison pending an appeal after they were convicted on terrorism charges. They were credited with time served, having already spent nearly three years in prison, and remained subject to travel controls. Economist Mehmet Altan, Ahmet’s brother, was acquitted in July and had been provisionally released in 2018. On November 12, Ahmet Altan was re-arrested after prosecutors appealed the decision for his recent release.
All three individuals were arrested in 2016 for allegedly disseminating “subliminal messages announcing a military coup” and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. They initially received life sentences in 2018, though these were later overturned. Three other defendants—Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek, and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, leading writers and journalists who were also arrested in 2016—were convicted on allegations of membership in a terrorist group and remain in detention.
Other leading members of civil society, academia, the media, and the political sphere have been imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression. Among these are Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and civil society leader, and Selahattin Demirtaş, coleader of the liberal and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Kavala has been held in detention for over 700 days on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and financing the Gezi Park protests of 2013. Demirtaş has been held in pretrial detention since November 2016 and could face 142 years in prison on terrorism-related charges.
On November 13, President Erdoğan is scheduled to hold meetings with US leaders, including at the Department of State and the White House.