Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejects release demand of journalists Alpay and Altan

The Constitutional Court has rejected the release demand of two prominent Turkish journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, despite earlier ruling that the rights of imprisoned journalists had been violated, daily Cumhuriyet reported on Sunday.

Following the ruling on Jan. 11, the two journalists, who have both been in prison for more than a year, demanded via their lawyers to be released. However, overruling its earlier decision that necessitated the release of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, the Constitutional Court has rejected the demand, stating that such a request can only be approved when there is a serious threat to the right to life or to material and moral integrity. Altan’s lawyer, Ergin Cinmen, described the court’s refusal to release the journalists as “unlawful.”

The two journalists, who have both been in prison for more than a year, were jailed in the aftermath of Turkey’s July 2016 coup attempt. Both Altan and Alpay have been accused of “links to terrorist groups” and “attempting to overthrow the government,” charges that both have denied.

The same top court had previously ruled on January 11, 2018 to release jailed Altan and Alpay, saying their continued imprisonment violated their rights to personal liberty and security protected under Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and “freedom of expression and the press” protected under Articles 26 and 28.

The court had stated that “press freedom as a specific element of freedom of expression has vital importance in democracies. It includes not only the dissemination of ideas and information, but also society’s access to those ideas and information,” dovetailing the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) jurisprudence on the role of journalism and the importance of press freedom in a democratic society. The decision was taken by an 11-6 majority vote. It was widely expected that the ruling would set the precedent for the release of other journalists in the country.

However, İstanbul’s 26th and 13th High Criminal Courts have refused to comply with the order of the top court to release jailed journalists Altan  and Alpay by stating that “it is not legally possible to fulfill the release order of the Constitutional Court” by accusing the top court of “grabbing its mandate.”

İstanbul 13th Criminal Court has also stated that the Constitutional Court can not perform ‘evaluation of evidence’ and ‘examination of appropriateness’ which would replace local courts for whatever reason, saying that they have examined the verdict published by the top court on its internet site and the petition of defendants.

Low level courts’ decisions have been the first instances of resistance showed by local courts to a clear order of the Constitutional Court which was established by 1961 Constitution. Under the Turkish Constitution’s Article 153, all Constitutional Court rulings enter into force immediately and are binding for the legislative, executive and judicial organs, including the administration and officials.

The local courts’ decisions of resistance against the order of the Constitutional Court have also resulted in the abolishment of the “effectiveness of the individual applications to the Constitutional Court” which was legislated by a popular referendum on September 12, 2010.

The local court’s astonishing move has come following the Turkish government officials’ criticism targeting the release decision of the Constitutional Court claiming that the top court has been overstepping its authority.

The European Union warned last week that the reversal of court decisions threatened the rule of law in Turkey.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 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.

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