Journalist Şahin Alpay’s right to liberty and security violated, Turkish Constitutional Court rules

Şahin Alpay

Journalist Şahin Alpay’s ongoing house arrest continues to violate his right to liberty and security, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday, Turkish media reported.

The court said Alpay’s release from prison only to be put under house arrest was a gross violation of his liberties. It said house arrest requires the precondition of a strong sign of criminal activity, which was not met in Alpay’s case and that he should be paid TL 20,000 ($2,700) in non-pecuniary damages.

Alpay, a veteran journalist and columnist for the now-closed Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, was jailed in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, over his alleged links to the Gülen movement and on allegations of “attempting to overthrow the government.”

On January 11, 2018 the Constitutional Court had ruled that Alpay’s pre-trial detention violated his rights to liberty and security, freedom of expression and freedom of the press and ordered the trial court to put an end to the violations cited.

However, both the trial court and a court of first instance authorized to review the objections rejected numerous petitions filed by Alpay’s lawyers requesting his release in accordance with the Constitutional Court judgment. Upon the trial court’s failure to implement the high court judgment, Alpay’s lawyers lodged a new application with the Constitutional Court.

On March 16, 2018 the Constitutional Court ruled that the trial court’s failure to implement its earlier judgment violated Alpay’s right to liberty and security under Article 19 of the Constitution and ordered Alpay’s immediate release. Based on the Constitutional Court’s second judgment, the trial court ruled for Alpay’s release from prison but ordered that he be placed under house arrest. Alpay was released from Silivri Prison in the early hours of March 17, 2018.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) announced on March 20, 2018  that Alpay’s arrest was a violation of personal liberty and security under Article 5/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and of freedom of expression under Article 10.

Alpay was eventually sentenced to eight years, nine months in prison on July 6, 2018 and has remained under house arrest.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt that he accused Gülen of masterminding.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 175 journalists are behind bars and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large. Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”

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