Turkish writer Ahmet Altan held in prison for 1,500 days without a shred of credible evidence: Human Rights Watch

Jailed Turkih novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan.

The Turkish government has held novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison for 1,500 days without a shred of credible evidence that he has committed any crime other than to express critical opinions, Emma Sinclair-Webb from Human Rights Watch said.

Describing Altan as an outspoken critic of Turkey’s history of military coups and violence, Sinclair-Webb said, “Human Rights Watch calls for the immediate release of Ahmet Altan from prison and the dropping of all charges against him.”

One of Turkey’s most famous novelists and journalists, Altan was first arrested after a July 2016 coup attempt. He was arrested with his brother Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Nazlı Ilıcak on allegations of spreading “subliminal messages announcing a military coup” on television.

They were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and interfering with the work of the national assembly and the government.

The three journalists received life sentences in 2018, though Mehmet Altan was released after four months pending appeal.

Sinclair-Webb said that international criticism of the trials and the lack of evidence had made it impossible for “the charges to stick.”

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak’s life sentences in July 2019. The court acquitted Mehmet Altan due to a lack of evidence and ordered that Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak be retried on the lesser charges of aiding the Gülen movement, which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Altan was found guilty on November 4, 2019 and sentenced to 10 years, six months in prison. He was released pending appeal and was the subject of a travel ban.

Two days later the prosecutor appealed the court decision, claiming that Altan posed a flight risk. The İstanbul court granted the prosecutor’s request on November 12, and Altan was re-arrested at his home that evening and sent back to Silivri Prison.

The re-arrest of Altan caused an international outcry. Amnesty International’s Europe director, Marie Struthers, said it was “scandalous,” adding, “It is impossible to see this decision as anything other than further punishment for his determination not to be silenced and it compounds an already shocking catalogue of injustice he has been subjected to.”

Karin Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programs, said the re-arrest was a “disgrace and horror” and called for Altan’s immediate release.

She said Altan should never have been imprisoned and that he had not committed a crime. “His release last week after more than three years in detention was a cause for hopeful celebration, but today we are faced again with the cruelty of a justice system that no longer upholds the rule of law,” she said.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 176 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists” in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

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