A top competent Turkish court ordered the release of journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, who was jailed for allegedly being part of a failed coup attempt in 2016
The Court of Cassation ruling came a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called for Altan’s release after having spent more than four years behind bars for writing articles criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The 71-year-old was arrested shortly after the failed coup attempt as part of a purge of media organizations and accused of supporting the uprising by “disseminating subliminal messages to the public”.
Altan was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to topple the government, a ruling that was later rejected by Turkey’s top court.
After the case was re-examined, he was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for “knowingly supporting a terrorist organization”, a reference to a movement Erdogan alleged was behind the coup.
Altan on his part has always denied the charges, calling them “grotesque”.
In November 2019 he was briefly released for time already served, but then almost immediately re-arrested and convicted of new terrorism charges.
The Court of Cassation ruling on Wednesday overturned his conviction in the 2019 case.
The journalist sought help from the ECHR in 2017.
In its verdict which was pronounced on Tuesday, the Strasbourg-based rights court found “no evidence that the actions of the applicant had been part of a plan to overthrow the government”.
The Court of Cassation ruling was issued as Erdogan attempts to mend sour relations with the European Union, which highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record during a summit in Ankara last week.
Although Turkish officials argue that the courts are independent, critics accuse Erdogan of stacking them with supporters during the sweeping purges that followed the coup attempt.
Altan’s case is one of several Western observers who are watching for signs of Turkey’s diplomatic intentions and future political course.
Perhaps the most celebrated case involves civil society leader Osman Kaval, who has been in custody without a conviction for nearly four years.
Looking at Altan’s case, the ECHR ordered Turkey to release him and pay him 16,000 euros ($19,000) in damages for violating his rights to freedom of expression.
According to EHCR Altan’s arrest had no basis in any “reasonable suspicion” that he had indeed committed the alleged criminal offenses.