Jailed Turkish columnist Mehmet Altan’s lawyers launch petition campaign

Lawyers representing Mehmet Altan, a prominent Turkish academic and journalist who has been held in a Turkish jail for more than 22 months over his well-known liberal views and criticism of the government, have begun to submit a daily petition to the Supreme Court of Appeals until his release, media group P24 reported on Tuesday.

Mehmet Altan, who stands accused of links to a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and alleged links to the Gülen movement, was sentenced to life in prison in February on charges of foreknowledge of the coup and the intention to act as part of its media arm, but the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in March that he should be released.

Both Mehmet Altan and his elder brother, prominent novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, were detained on Sept. 10, 2016 and accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding the failed coup attempt on a TV show a day before the putsch. The prosecutor accused the suspects of ties to the Gülen movement and “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization without membership in it.”

There had been drama before Altan’s conviction as well: Turkey’s Constitutional Court ordered his release from prison, but a lower court refused to carry out its orders and blocked Altan’s release.

In protest of the violations of Altan’s rights both during his trial and throughout his time in solitary confinement, lawyers Ergin Cinmen and Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu have begun to submit daily petitions starting June 11 asking for an appeals court to take up his case.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with Ahval)

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