The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey has violated the liberty, security and freedom of expression of two journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, who face terror charges.
The ECtHR ruled on Tuesday that Turkey had acted illegally in keeping the two journalists in jail despite the country’s Constitutional Court’s issuing an order for their release.
The Constitutional Court ruled in January that Alpay, along with fellow jailed journalist Altan, should be released due to a violation of their rights; however, local courts refused to free them, arguing that the top court’s ruling was not binding.
Both Altan and Alpay were jailed in the aftermath of a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. They are accused of links to the Gülen movement and “attempting to overthrow the government.” They have denied the charges.
Tuesday’s ruling is the first ECtHR verdict on the situation facing journalists in Turkey.
Turkey’s Constitutional Court last Friday ruled for a second time that the rights of Alpay, who was arrested July 30, 2016, were violated. The journalist was released from prison but was put under house arrest, while Altan is still behind bars, sentenced to aggravated life in prison on terror charges in February despite the top court’s ruling.
The ECtHR noted that “there is a general problem in Turkey concerning the interpretation of anti-terrorism laws,” and agreed with the plaintiffs that “dealing with matters of public interest” did not constitute incitement to violence.
The court found in particular that “Mr Alpay’s pre-trial detention… could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ and ‘in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law.”
Altan’s detention “could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society.”
Judges ordered Turkey to pay each man 21,500 euros.
Turkish Judge Ergin Ergül issued a partly dissenting opinion to the case, claiming the ECtHR was overstepping national authority.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.