A Turkish court released journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan after more than four years in prison on charges of participation in a failed coup attempt in 2016, charges he had always denied.
The court of cassation’s ruling came a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanded the 71-year-old’s release in a verdict that accused Turkey of violating his civil rights.
“I don’t know how I got out. Was sitting [in prison] and suddenly they told me tonight that they would release me, ”Altan said at his home in Istanbul. “I just saw my children. Now I’ll spend some time with them. ”
The award-winning novelist and newspaper editor was jailed after writing politically sensitive articles criticizing the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and supporting Kurdish rights.
Altan was arrested during the purges that followed the coup attempt and charged with supporting the uprising “by spreading subliminal messages to the public.”
He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government, a ruling that was later overturned by Turkey’s high court. When the case was reexamined, he was sentenced to 10 years and six months for “knowingly supporting a terrorist organization” that was involved in the attempted coup.
“Very happy to hear that the Turkish court of cassation has just ordered the release of novelist Ahmet Altan after more than 4.5 years in jail,” tweeted the European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, Nacho Sánchez Amor.
“He will be even happier after seeing him fully enjoying his freedom and dropping all charges. I hope everyone else [ECHR] the sentences will also apply “.
The ruling came as Erdogan mounted a glamor offensive aimed at mending torn relations with the European Union and building a new relationship with Joe Biden’s American administration.
EU leaders highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record during a summit in Ankara last week. The Biden White House has also made human rights a much bigger problem in US-Turkish relations than it had been under the Trump administration.
Turkish officials argue that the courts are independent and not swayed by Erdogan’s politics or whims. But critics accuse Erdogan of stacking them with supporters after firing or jailing tens of thousands of people in various government positions.
Western observers have been watching the case of Altan and some other renowned prisoners for signs of Turkey’s diplomatic intentions and future political direction.
The best-known case involves civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been detained without a conviction for nearly four years. He was briefly released and acquitted of all charges before being arrested almost immediately in 2019.
The cassation court ruling on Wednesday reversed his conviction in the 2019 case related to charges of “assisting a terrorist organization.” In 2017, he came to the ECHR for help after calling the charges against him “grotesque.”
The Strasbourg-based rights court found “no evidence Tuesday that the plaintiff’s actions were part of a plan to overthrow the government.” He ordered Turkey to immediately release him and pay him € 16,000 in damages for violating his right to freedom of expression.
“Deprivation of liberty, in particular continued detention, must be based on reasonable suspicion,” the ECHR ruling said.
The ruling “concluded that the plaintiff’s criticism of the president’s political approach could not be seen as an indication that he had prior knowledge of the attempted coup.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism