Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes last night’s release of Mehmet Altan, a well-known writer and journalist who had spent nearly two years in prison in Turkey. His release is nonetheless only conditional and depends on the outcome of his appeal.
“Mehmet Altan’s release after 21 months of unjustifiable detention is a great relief,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We now call for his conviction to be overturned and for the immediate release of Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and all the other journalists held unjustly. This news should encourage the international community to step up its efforts on behalf of Turkey’s journalists.”
An Istanbul regional court ordered Mehmet Altan’s release pending the outcome of his appeal against his conviction and sentence to “aggravated life imprisonment”. For the time being, he remains under judicial control and cannot travel abroad.
The court based its decision on last January’s ruling by the constitutional court that his continued provisional detention was unjustified. In other words, a binding decision issued by Turkey’s highest court has finally been carried out, even if it took six months. The European Court of Human Rights issued a similar decision in March.
The court nonetheless refused to release Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, although they were sentenced along with Mehmet Altan to life imprisonment on a charge of “trying to overthrow constitutional order.” All three were arrested in September 2016 for having criticized the government during a TV broadcast on the eve of the July 2016 coup attempt. A court is scheduled to begin hearing their appeal on 21 September.
Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after a coup attempt in July 2016. 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.