European Court issues first rulings on journalists detained in Turkey

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of all journalists wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey after the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Turkey in its first two decisions on the detention of journalists after the July 2016 coup attempt.

RSF has long been pressing the European Court to take a position on the imprisonment of Turkish journalists, who are denied any effective recourse in Turkey, and the court finally began to do this today, issuing decisions on the provisional detention of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay for more than a year and a half.

Finding that the detention of these two famous journalists was neither “necessary” nor “proportionate” and that it violated their “right to liberty and security of person” and their “right to freedom of expression,” the court ordered Turkey to pay both of them 21,500 euros in damages.

“We have waited a long time for these rulings, which force the Turkish authorities to confront their obligations,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s Turkey representative. “The authorities must now draw the appropriate conclusions, ending Şahin Alpay’s house arrest and freeing Mehmet Altan and all other unjustly detained journalists.”

Önderoğlu added: “The Turkish government must stop criminalizing journalism and trampling on the rule of law, or else it will suffer the political and financial consequences.”

Alpay was arrested in July 2016, and Altan the following September. Turkey’s highest court, the constitutional court, ruled in January of this year that their provisional detention was illegal and ordered their immediate release, but the lower courts refused to carry out this order. This refusal by the lower courts “runs counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty,” the European Court said.

Altan was finally sentenced to life imprisonment last month on a charge of trying to overthrow state institutions. As a result of a second decision by the constitutional court (just days before today’s European Court rulings), Alpay was let out of prison on 16 March but remains under house arrest on charges of “trying to overthrow the government” and links with “terrorist organizations.”

Today’s European Court rulings only address the issue of the provisional detention of these two journalists. RSF regrets that the European Court waited until after Altan’s conviction to issue a ruling on his case, because its effect could have been much greater.

RSF nonetheless thinks that today’s two rulings confirm that the violations that have taken place are serious enough to justify a complete reexamination of all the cases of journalists imprisoned in Turkey, especially as the European Court said Alpay and Altan were arrested because of their “criticism” of the government and their “publication of information regarded (...) as endangering national interests.”

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.

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Updated on 20.03.2018