Turkey: Constitutional Court rules in favour of jailed journalists - but they are still in jail

Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) has ruled that the journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan were detained in violation of their rights. However, penal courts stalled the decision. International media freedom campaigners are urging the lower courts to respect the ruling and set the journalists free.


By Jane Whyatt

Turkey’s prime minister said on Friday the case would be decided by a local court. “Whether we like the Constitutional Court’s ruling or not, the authority that will make the right call is the first instance court,” Binali Yildirim told reporters. Earlier on Friday Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the court had "overstepped its limit".

"Respect the highest court"

ECPMF Managing Director Lutz Kinkel says: “The Consitutional Court exists to defend the rule of law and democratic values. Its ruling should be respected.”

Lawyer Veysel Ok, of the independent Turkish news portal Bianet, said, that with the decision of the AYM, one year of detention was registered as unfair. He added he did not see the content of the decision and that he hopes it would be available to all journalists.

The lawyer for the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) Ayse Bingöl comments: "I have been informed that both Istanbul 13th and 26th Assize Courts have rejected lawyers' requests for release of Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan which were made following the Turkish Constitutional Court's decisions. The reasoning of the courts differ. E.g. they were not formally notified of the reasoned decision of the TCC, they need to see the grounds TCC relied on and if it is in line with the file, they need to consolidate with the file, etc."

According to the latest count by the European Federation of Journalists, there are 148 journalists behind bars in Turkey at present (January 2018). It is not clear whether the Constitutional Court ruling will apply as a precedent for these other detainees who were not named in the TCC case.

Both those who were named are well known, high-profile and respected figures. Mehmet Altan is an author, lecturer and professor at Istanbul University. He worked as a columnist for Cumhuriyet Newspaper's Paris correspondent, Sabah and Star newspapers, prepared and directed debate programs on television channels. Between 1985 and 2013 he wrote 35 books.

Editor-in-chief and political scientist

His brother Ahmed, former editor-in-chief of the former Taraf newspaper, was awarded the 2009 Prize for Freedom and Future of the Media by the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig, one of ECPMF’s founders and benefactors. He is also detained.

Şahin Alpay is a writer, political scientist and journalist, working between 1982 and 1992 in Cumhuriyet Gazetesi, between 1993 and 94 Sabah newspaper and between 1994 and 2001 in Milliyet newspaper as editor and writer.

From 1999 to 2002, he directed the weekly program "Intellectual Overview" on CNN Türk and worked for the Zaman newspaper which was forced to close in 2016.

Article 19, the global campaign on freedom of expression had earlier prepared an expert legal opinion on the case of Şahin Alpay in December 2017.

MEP Rebecca Harms has published a public statement on the refusal to release Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay despite top court decision: