NEW YORK—The expulsion of the legal defense team for writer and journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics, is further demonstration of the complete disregard for civil liberties in Turkey.

In September 2016 Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Their alleged crime consists of giving subliminal messages to rally coup supporters on a television panel show broadcast the night before the attempt. Their detention is only the latest in a long series of arrests and legal charges filed against civil society actors made by Turkish authorities in the wake of the failed coup. The brothers’ trial began in Istanbul on June 19, 2017, and the court has three times convened to hold preliminary hearings. As a result of the dismissal of their counsel, the brothers have been forced to defend themselves via a video link from Silivri prison. If convicted, they face a possible life sentence.

“The ousting of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan’s legal defense team shows an egregious disregard for the rule of law in Turkey, and is indicative the government’s desire to subvert the judicial process,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “We call on Turkish authorities to reinstate the Altan brothers’ legal counsel and cease the widespread persecution of prominent writers and thinkers in Turkey.”

Media freedom and broader freedom of expression in Turkey have deteriorated at an alarming rate since the coup attempt. Alongside a purging of academics and teachers, dozens of journalists, writers, and activists have been arrested, and more than 180 news outlets have been shut down by presidential decree. Turkey now jails the most journalists in the world, with more than 150 currently behind bars. Among them are Nazli Ilicak, detained in September 2016, and Ahmet Sik, detained in December 2016, who remain incarcerated while on trial. 

Dozens of prominent writers and artists first joined with PEN America in September 2016 in calling for the release of the Altan brothers. A history of their incarceration and trial can be found here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, PEN America External Relations Coordinator:, +1.646.981.0685