Turkey's top court orders release of two jailed journalists

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 11, 2018 9:09 AM

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's top court ordered the release of two jailed journalists on Thursday after deciding their rights had been violated while in custody, a move some said could set a precedent for dozens of other reporters detained under President Tayyip Erdogan.

Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, jailed for more than year amid large-scale purges of the media and state institutions after a failed 2016 coup, were accused of links to terrorist groups and attempting to overthrow the government, charges they deny.

"It was decided ... by a majority of votes that their freedom of expression and (the freedom of) press, protected under ... the constitution, were violated," the records of the Constitutional Court said.

Court officials were not immediately available for comment.

Altan is a professor of economics and frequent commentator in liberal Turkish media. Alpay is a columnist.

The two men, along with a third journalist, Turhan Gunay, had argued that their arrests were illegal and that their rights and freedoms had been violated during pre-trial detention. Eleven of the court's judges ruled in their favor and six against, the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

PRECEDENT

Gunay, a Cumhuriyet journalist, was released in September following a ruling in a separate case. The court ruled on Thursday that Gunay's rights had also been violated during his time in detention.

"It (the decision) should set a precedent for other appeals of the same nature," Gunay's lawyer told Reuters.

Baris Yarkadas, a lawmaker from the main opposition CHP party, echoed that view.

"The decision by the Constitutional Court on Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay is correct but insufficient," he said on Twitter.

"The (court) should take a step to ensure the freedom of all arrested journalists. It should carry out its mission and end victimization."

Turkish authorities have jailed more than 50,000 people and shut down some 130 media outlets in the post-coup crackdown.

Around 160 journalists have been imprisoned, according to the Turkish Journalists' Association, and rights groups say Turkey is now the world's largest jailer of journalists.

Many of the jailed reporters have been charged with spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the abortive putsch.

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. He has denied orchestrating the coup and condemned it.

Alpay wrote for the now-defunct Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement's flagship daily before its seizure by the authorities and subsequent closure.

Erdogan has said that some journalists helped nurture terrorists through their writing, and says the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in Turkey, a NATO member that borders Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Critics say Erdogan is using the post-coup crackdown to muzzle dissent and tighten his grip on power, charges he denies. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also criticized the crackdown.

(Additional reporting by Can Sezer; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)