“The decision of the European Court of Human Rights shows clearly that the rights to liberty and security, as well as to freedom of expression of two Turkish journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, have been violated,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) media freedom representative Harlem Désir said on Tuesday in reaction to a Strasbourg court judgment earlier in the day.
On March 20 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the pretrial detention of the two journalists had violated their rights protected under Articles 5(1) and 10 of the Convention on Human Rights. A few days earlier, on March 17, Alpay was released pending trial and placed under house arrest, following a second related ruling of Turkey’s Constitutional Court. On Feb. 16 Mehmet Altan was sentenced to an aggravated life term in prison on charges of alleged links to the Gülen movement.
“The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights highlights the need for Turkey to revisit the court decisions made in the cases of journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan,” Désir said. “I urge Turkey to reverse the decisions that criminalize journalism, release the other remaining imprisoned journalists and dismiss charges against them. I also urge the authorities to engage in reforming the laws affecting media freedom in the country, and I offer the assistance of my Office in this process.”
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 in Turkey on July 15, 2016. They are accused of links to the Gülen movement and “attempting to overthrow the government.” They have denied the charges.
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.”
The 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.