NEW YORK—A Turkish court’s June 27 ruling that journalist and writer Mehmet Altan be released after spending nearly two years in prison is a welcome first step for free expression in Turkey, and it should be followed by the release of his brother Ahmet Altan and other unjustly-held journalists, PEN America said​​ ​in a statement ​today.

Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet, along with Nazli Ilicak, were sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2018 for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through the use of force and violence. The June 27 decision by the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice was based on the Turkish Constitutional Court’s January 2018 ruling that Altan’s personal liberty and security and the freedom of the press were being violated by his continued imprisonment while his case is being considered.  Although he was released that evening, Altan must report weekly to the local police to sign in and he is under a travel ban.  His co-defendants in the case remain in prison, and their appeal will be heard starting on September 21.

“The detention of these journalists was a violation of their rights from the very start,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “This ruling, while very welcome and a great relief for Mehmet and his family, is only a first step in restoring justice in this case.  Press freedom in Turkey remains under grave threat until all imprisoned journalists are released and free to write, speak, and travel.” 

The case began in September 2016, when Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July coup attempt. Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show hosted by Ilicak, the Altan brothers and Ilicak were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force. The three have been serving time in pre-trial detention since their 2016 arrests. In February 2018, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.

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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. pen.org

CONTACT: 

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org