Ahmet Altan, an imprisoned Turkish writer and journalist, has topped the December 2020 ranking of the One Free Press Coalition’s “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom cases.
Altan, described by Amnesty International as a “prisoner of conscience”, was first arrested in September 2016 as part of the Turkish government’s media purge following the failed coup d’état.
He was accused of encouraging planners of the coup with “subliminal messages” via a televised debate, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and interfering with the work of the national assembly and the government.
Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher with the Europe and Central Asia division, said that Altan has been imprisoned:
“without a shred of credible evidence that he has committed any crime other than to express critical opinions”
Altan’s lawyer, Figen Çalıkuşu, added further gravity to his case, describing Coronavirus as a “serious life threat” to the 70-year-old. She went on to state that the three adjoining cells to Altan housed inmates who had been displaying signs of COVID-19, calling on the Turkish government to immediately release him “in the face of life threat”.
“The right to life is the most fundamental Constitutional right and it is considered to be protected by the state. On the one side, there is the fact that my client is held behind bars by legal force and by disregarding the articles of the law; on the other side, there is a serious health risk and threat” she said; “Equality is another Constitutional right. There are those who were sentenced to prison for organization membership, but were released.”
His original sentence of life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government was overturned in November 2019, with the Turkish Court of Cassation instead sentencing him to 10 years and 6 months behind bars for allegedly aiding a terrorist organisation.
Altan was released on 4 November 2019 under judicial supervision but was re-arrested just 8 days later, following a ruling that reversed his release.
Following his momentary discharge, Altan filed a petition saying he was re-arrested despite the fact that circumstances requiring his re-arrest were not present, and thus his right to freedom and security was violated.
However, on 2 December 2020, after reviewing Altan’s application, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that his imprisonment following conviction and the imposition of a prison sentence by a court does not constitute a violation of the right to freedom and security.
In Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, with RSF calling Turkey
“the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists”
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, there are 174 journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey, while a further 167 are wanted and either in exile or remain at large.
The systematic and methodical suppression of journalists who oppose Erdoğan’s government is a blatant encroachment on the freedom of the Turkish press. More must be done by the international community to dissuade Turkish authorities from continuing their invasive and unjust campaign against independent media.