Turkish journalists: European Court must render justice before it is too late

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the European Court of Human Rights to respond quickly to the end of the rule of law in Turkey, where the courts have been ignoring a constitutional court order to release two journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, for the past month.

Turkey’s constitutional court raised hopes when it ruled on 11 January that the provisional detention of these two journalists was unconstitutional and ordered their immediate release. But now, four weeks later, the order has still not been carried out. Ignoring its final and binding nature, lower courts have refused to execute it and have rejected all the appeals filed by the journalists’ lawyers.

“The refusal to free Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan constitutes a major blow to legality and institutions in Turkey,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said. “It is now clear that Turkey is trampling on the rule of law and is offering no effective recourse to its imprisoned journalists. The European Court of Human Rights must render them justice before it is too late.”

The Turkish judicial system is now in a race with the European Court, which agreed last year to prioritize the petitions filed by around 20 Turkish journalists who have been held for more than a year. But these petitions, which are backed by RSF and 12 other international NGOs, are limited to the issue of their provisional detention. They will have little effect after the Turkish courts have finished trying the journalists.

The trial of Mehmet Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan and the well-known journalist Nazlı Ilıcak is due to resume on 12 February and the court could issue its verdict the same week. The trial of Şahin Alpay and his 29 fellow defendants is due to resume on 5 April.

Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay are both facing possible life imprisonment on charges of trying to overthrow the government and links with “terrorist organizations.” Their only “crime” was to work for the newspaper Zaman and criticize President Erdoğan during a TV broadcast.

After the non-execution of its 11 January ruling, Turkey’s constitutional court agreed to urgently examine a new appeal by the two journalists’ lawyers. But, on the grounds that their physical and psychological integrity is not in danger, it has refused to again order their immediate release until it has considered the substance of the case.

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 12.02.2018