Turkey’s constitutional court orders release of two journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes today’s constitutional court decision finally ordering the release of two journalists, Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, and calls for the release of all the other journalists who are unjustly detained in Turkey.

The ruling has ended a year and a half of silence by the constitutional court. Decapitated by the arrests of three judges and paralysed by the collapse in the rule of law, the court had not issued any decision since the government proclaimed a state of emergency in July 2016.

Today’s decision came as the European Court of Human Rights was close to issuing its own ruling on the petitions filed by Altan and Alpay, which were backed by RSF and other NGOs. Altan has been held since September 2016 and Alpay since July 2016.

“Finally! We have waited too long for this moment,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s Turkey representative. “The arbitrary detention of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay was a real scandal and we are relieved it’s finally over. This ruling must now serve as precedent. We call on the courts to immediately release all the other journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned.”

The constitutional court also recognized that Turhan Günay, the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s books editor and a former member of its board, was detained illegally. Arrested in October 2016, he was released provisionally in July 2017.

Although Altan and Alpay should now be released, they are still being tried on charges of “trying to overthrow the government” and links with “terrorist organizations” and are still facing the possibility of life imprisonment. Altan’s trial is due to resume on 12 February, Alpay’s on 5 April.

Altan is being tried with two other journalists who are still in prison. Alpay has 29 co-defendants who are all still detained. Aged 73, Alpay has cardiac problems and has lost nearly 50% of his hearing since his arrest.

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 Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.

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Updated on 11.01.2018