Purged academic Mehmet Altan’s appeal rejected by OHAL Commission based on nonexistent document

Academic and journalist Mehmet Altan’s appeal for reinstatement to his job at Istanbul University was rejected by a commission reviewing decisions taken by the Turkish government during a two-year state of emergency, based on a document that actually does not exist.

According to a T24 news website report, Altan, a professor of economics, was fired by a government decree after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt. He appealed for reinstatement in 2018, but his appeal was rejected. The State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) said its decision was based on an administrative investigation report about Altan and the fact that he was currently standing trial on terrorism-related charges.

Altan appealed to the Ankara 21st Administrative Court, which asked the university for a copy of the investigation report. The university told the court that they did not have any such report and that there never was an investigation into Altan.

One of Turkey’s most famous journalists and academics, Altan was arrested on September 10, 2016 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and interfering with the work of the parliament and the government.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 2018, and the decision was upheld by the 2nd Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. The decision was eventually overturned in 2019 by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and he was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court in January 2018 ruled in favor of Altan, saying his imprisonment was in violation of his rights to personal liberty, security and freedom of expression.

Likewise, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on March 20, 2018 that Altan should be released and that his rights to liberty and freedom of expression had been violated. The ECtHR added that the authorities had been unable to demonstrate any factual basis proving that Altan had committed the offenses in question.

The OHAL Commission not only based its decision to reject Altan’s appeal on a nonexistent document, they also did not take into consideration the rulings of both the Constitutional Court and the ECtHR that called for his immediate release.

The OHAL Commission was established in January 2017 for appeals against measures taken by the Turkish government during a two-year state of emergency declared in the aftermath of  the coup attempt.

During the state of emergency the Turkish government carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight against its political opponents. In addition to summarily removing over 130,000 public servants as well as 20,610 members of the armed forces, the government also shut down 164 media organizations, 1,058 educational institutions and 1,769 NGOs with emergency decree-laws without any due process. The victims were not allowed to contest the decisions in court.

The OHAL Commission was established as an appeals body under pressure from the Council of Europe in order to relieve the ECtHR of a huge workload emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who were unable to take their cases to Turkish courts. According to critics, the commission’s role is simply to delay or prevent possible ECtHR decisions against Turkey. The commission is also accused of bias as it is led by former Justice Ministry deputy undersecretary Selahaddin Menteş, who had been openly supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

As of December 31, 2020 the commission had made decisions on 112,310 of a total of 126,630 applications. It ruled in favor of the applicants in only 13,170 of the cases.

In its Turkey 2020 report, the European Commission (EC) raised serious concerns about the ability of the commission to provide an effective remedy to dismissals. The report criticized the lengthy review procedures and underlined that the applicants did not have a proper means of defense as the commission does not hold hearings. The EC also said the commission did not have sufficiently individualized criteria to evaluate the applications.

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