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Turkey: Prominent Writer & Journalists Mehmet and Ahmet Altan arrested on terror charges

Tuesday 27 September 2016 - 1:00am


RAN 19/16

27 September 2016 - PEN International is seriously concerned at the charges brought against prominent writer, novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan and writer, economist and journalist Mehmet Altan under Article 314/2 of the Penal Code of ‘ being a member of a terror organization’ and Article 309 of “attempting to overthrow the government and obstruct its duties” . Mehmet Altan was arrested on 10 September 2016 along with his brother, former Taraf daily newspaper Editor-in-chief Ahmet Altan, who was released on bail on 22 September, only to be rearrested later on the day. The organisation is calling for Ahmet and Mehmet Altan’s immediate and unconditional release as they are held solely for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and for the dropping of the investigation into the both writers.

While recognizing the right of the Turkish authorities to bring those responsible for crimes during the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 to justice, PEN International calls on the Turkish authorities to safeguard freedom of expression, human rights and respect their obligations under international law during the declared state of emergency and to release all journalists and writers held solely in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, as appears to be the case with Ahmet and Mehmet Altan.

As of 26th of September 2016, according to PEN International’s records, at least 130 writers and journalists are arrested, detained without charge or awaiting trial in Turkey. The full list of names can be found here.

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Send Appeals to the Turkish authorities:

• Urging them to release Mehmet and Ahmet Altan immediately and unconditionally as they are held solely in connection with his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
• Calling for all detained writers and journalists to have access to lawyers and to be released if they are not to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence and tried promptly in accordance with international fair trial standards;
• While recognising that the Turkish authorities have the right and responsibility to investigate those suspected of crimes in relation to the failed coup, calling on them not to use the state of emergency to crack down on peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education;

Please send appeals reiterating PEN’s calls (listed above) to:
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe-Ankara
Tel : (+90 312) 525 55 55
Fax : (+90 312) 525 58 31

Twitter: @RT_Erdogan
Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Turkey in your country. A list of embassies can be found here.
Please send us copies of your letters or information about other activities and of any responses received.

Mehmet Hasan Altan (born 11 January 1953) is a Turkish academic economist, journalist, and author of over 25 books. Describing himself as a "Marxist-liberal", he is the originator of the term "Second Republic", arguing that Turkey needs to reconstitute its republic as a true democracy. A strong supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, he joined the Istanbul University Faculty of Economics in 1986, becoming a full professor in 1993. From 1987 to November 2006 he contributed to the daily Sabah, before moving to Star, becoming editor-in-chief. He left Star in January 2012.

Ahmet Hüsrev Altan (born 02 March 1950) is a Turkish journalist and author. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked in many fields of the profession, including as a reporter (Associated Press), foreign news editor (Hürriyet) columnist (Hürriyet, Milliyet, Yeni Yüzyıl, Taraf) and founding editor-in-chief of Taraf Daily.

In addition to having written columns in several Turkish newspapers, Altan has also produced programs for television (Kırmızı Koltuk, 1990 with Neşe Düzel) and authored more then 11 books. Some for which he holds esteemed awards such as the Yunus Nadi Award (1998/ Kılıç Yarası Gibi) and Leipzig Freedom and the Future of Media Award (2009) In 2012 he was sentenced to 14 months in prison for defamation of then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, due to an article he authored in Taraf daily about the Roboski incident. In 2007 he became the founding editor in chief and lead columnist of Taraf, a liberal Turkish daily newspaper. On December 14, 2012, Ahmet Altan, resigned from this post.

Mehmet Altan was arrested on 10 September along with his brother Ahmet Altan as part of the post-coup investigation launched into the Gulenist movement which the authorities have claimed was responsible for the coup. The authorities have labelled it the Fethullah Terror Organization or FETÖ and have accused it of running a ‘parallel state’, infiltrating all Turkish institutions including the police and judiciary. Altan's are accused of being part of the ‘media arm’ of FETO.

Veysel Ok, lawyer of the Altan brothers, stated that the brothers were detained due to their comments on the program “Özgür Düşünce” broadcast on Can Erzincan TV on 14 July, the night before the coup attempt. The prosecutor alleged that Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan have used phrases “delivering subliminal messages evoking the coup.”

On 22 September, after being held in detention for 12 days, Istanbul 10th Criminal Judgeship of Peace on Duty ruled for Mehmet Altan to be held in pre-trial detention on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” whilst also ruling to release his brother, Ahmet Altan on probation. Ahmet Altan was arrested again later in the day.

After the failed coup of 15 July 2016, a state of emergency was declared. Since the imposition of the state of emergency, Turkey’s Council of Ministers has issued four decrees, granting the Turkish authorities wide-ranging powers. A number of these affect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and have been used to facilitate the arrest and harassment of media personnel, including:

1. An extension of the period during which an individual may be detained without charge, from 48 hours to 30 days; the decrees also restrict access to legal counsel for detainees and extend the period before a detainee must have access to a lawyer to five days
2. Empowering higher levels of administration to shut down any media organisation
3. Enabling the government to impose curfews, ban public meetings, gatherings and rallies, and restrict access to private and public spaces
4. Granting law enforcement agencies the power to stop and search people and vehicles without judicial authorisation and to confiscate suspicious materials.

Over 100 media outlets have been closed as well as at least 29 publishing houses. At least 88 journalists have been arrested, bringing the total number of media workers detained in Turkey on charges related to their exercise of the right to freedom of expression to over 100, primarily on terror-related. These numbers exclude countless other journalists held in temporary detention. There are credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of those in police custody following the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights.

PEN believes that most, if not all, of these arrests, detentions and closures of media and publishing outlets are arbitrary, as they are not based on clear evidence of involvement in a crime, and the use of emergency measures in these instances are not justified by the current situation. Since July, the crackdown on media reporting on Kurdish issues and the conflict in South East Turkey has intensified. 17 journalists have been arrested on terror charges entirely un-related to the coup. All apart from one of these journalists are from media outlets considered pro-Kurdish. This increases concerns that Turkey is abusing the state of emergency to limit reporting on matters in the public interest, including on human rights violations and abuses committed by state and non-state actors in South-East Turkey.

PEN calls on the Turkish authorities not to use the state of emergency to restrict freedom of expression, and to revoke Turkey’s derogations from international human rights instruments safeguarding this right. Turkey must ensure that investigations into those responsible for the coup are limited to those alleged to be directly involved in criminal activity, are based on evidence, and that due process is observed in line with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

For further information please contact Sahar Halaimzai at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: