EU expresses ‘serious concerns’ about rule of law, independent judiciary in Turkey

A spokesperson for the European Union has expressed “serious concerns” over the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, in comments regarding two lower courts’ refusal to implement a Constitutional Court ruling to release jailed journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay.

“The decision by local courts not to implement the Constitutional Court’s ruling regarding the violation of fundamental rights of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay further increases the EU’s serious concerns with regards to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, said the spokesman on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Court had ruled on Jan. 11 that Altan and Alpay be released, saying their rights had been violated. But İstanbul’s 26th and 13th High Criminal Courts on the evening of the same day refused to comply with the order to release the journalists.

“The EU expects the Turkish authorities to respect the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, including pre-trial detention as well as the principle of presumption of innocence,” the spokesman said, adding, “The EU will continue to follow developments closely and share its overall assessment in its annual report on Turkey, to be published in April.”

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir has called on Turkish authorities on Wednesday to ensure that a Constitutional Court decision in the cases of imprisoned journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay is implemented and that the journalists are released without further delay.

“This refusal to implement the Constitutional Court decision is of grave concern, as it is related to the freedom of individuals, in that case of two journalists. It seriously infringes upon their rights including freedom of expression and freedom to work as journalists, which should be protected by the rule of law. I call on the authorities to ensure that the Constitutional Court decision of 11 January 2018 in the cases of Altan and Alpay is implemented and that they are released without any further delay,” Désir said on Wednesday in a letter to Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Altan, a professor of economics at İstanbul University and a columnist known for his liberal views and criticism of the government, and Alpay, a veteran journalist and columnist for the now-closed Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, were jailed in a crackdown on media after an abortive coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

The two are charged with membership in a terrorist organization, abetting a coup against the government and attempting to destroy the constitutional order. Prosecutors also accuse the suspects of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, blamed by the Turkish government for having masterminded the putsch.

Mehmet Altan was arrested along with his brother Ahmet Altan, a novelist and former editor-in-chief of the closed-down Taraf daily, on charges of sending “subliminal messages” to coup plotters in a TV program on July 14, a day before the coup attempt.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 242 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 4, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 138 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with

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