Veteran Turkish journalist Şahin Alpay released pending trial after 20 months of detention

Şahin Alpay

Şahin Alpay, a veteran journalist and columnist of the now-closed Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, was released pending trial on Friday after Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) ruled for a second time that the rights of Alpay had been violated.

It was reported that the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court ruled for Alpay’s house arrest, judicial probation and an international travel ban.

As he met with his family after the release from İtsanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison at midnight Şahin Alpay has stated that “I am extremely happy to have reconvened with my family. But I can not say that I have got my freedom. Twenty months have been past very difficult (in the prison). There are thousands I am leaving behind who have nothing to do with terrorism or the coup attempt. I believe Turkey will not be free if they are not free.”

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Friday ruled for a second time that the rights of Alpay, who was arrested July 30, 2016, were violated. The decision came upon an application by Alpay’s lawyers after an İstanbul high criminal court had refused to release him despite an earlier Constitutional Court ruling on Jan. 11, 2018 that his right to freedom and security as well as to freedom of expression and freedom of the press had been violated.

The Constitutional Court ruled at the time that Alpay, along with fellow jailed journalist Mehmet Altan, should be released as their rights had been violated. However, local courts refused to release them, arguing that the top court’s ruling was not binding.

On March 6, 2018, autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Constitutional Court’s rulings are binding for everyone and that they should be obeyed. “From time to time we have criticized the decisions of our courts, our high judicial institutions and our Constitutional Court. We will continue to do that. But we have never ignored these decisions. We have never hesitated to fulfill their requirements,” Erdoğan said.

Both Altan and Alpay, who were jailed in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, have been in prison for more than 18 months. They are accused of links to the Gülen movement and “attempting to overthrow the government.” They have denied the charges.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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