Free Ahmet Altan

Call to Action

Turkey: Free Ahmet Altan

‘They may have the power to imprison me but no one has the power to keep me in prison.’ Ahmet Altan

Writer and journalist Ahmet Altan is serving a 10-and-a-half year prison sentence on trumped up charges of ‘knowingly and willingly assisting a terrorist organisation’. First arrested in September 2016, Ahmet Altan spent over three years in pre-trial detention, in what amounts to judicial harassment. Sentenced on 4 November 2019 following proceedings marred by violations of his right to a fair trial, he was released pending appeal only to be sent back to jail eight days later. He is currently being held in Silivri prison, outside Istanbul. A date for his appeal hearing has yet to be set. PEN International believes that Ahmet Altan is being imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Turkish authorities to quash the sentencing and conviction of Ahmet Altan and to release him immediately and unconditionally;
  • Calling on the Turkish authorities to end the prosecution and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliation, and to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Send appeals to:

Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül

Ministry of Justice, Adalet Bakanlığı

06659 Ankara

Turkey

Send copies to the Embassy of Turkey in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/turkey.

Bilateral advocacy is key. Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Turkey, calling on them to raise their profound concerns about the re-arrest of Ahmet Altan with the Turkish authorities, and to call for his immediate and unconditional release.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 7 January 2020. ***

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Ahmet Altan and freedom of expression in Turkey;
  • Share information about Ahmet Altan and your campaigning activities via social media. Please use #AhmetAltan and #FreeTurkeyMedia
  • Promote Ahmet Altan’s writings, such as The Writer’s Paradox and his latest work I Will Never See the World Again.

Please keep us informed of your activities.

Solidarity

Solidarity is a crucial component of our campaign. Writing to PEN members on 18 November 2019, Ahmet Altan warmly thanked the PEN community for its support and upcoming actions:

‘Writers who, through pen and paper, can craft men, climates, loves, wars always look like mythical gods to me.

 Having now heard what you are going to do, I feel as if gods from across the globe are gathering here.’

Original message (Turkish):

‘Bir kalem kağıtla insanlar, iklimler, aşklar, savaşlar yaratabilen yazarlar bana her zaman mitoloji tanrıları gibi görünürler.

 Şimdi sizin yapacaklarınızı duyunca, tanrılar dünyanın her yanından gelip burada toplanacaklarmış gibi hissettim.’

 The prison administration filters all written correspondence and arbitrarily block letters. Please send your messages to ahmetaltanmehmetaltan@gmail.com or via this form – which will be read by Ahmet Altan during his regular visits with his attorneys. Open letters can be viewed at https://ahmetaltanmehmetaltan.com/ . For more information please see https://ahmetaltan.info/.

Background

Prominent Turkish writer, novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, 69, was arrested on 10 September 2016 with his brother, the economist and journalist Mehmet Altan, on allegations of spreading ‘subliminal messages announcing a military coup’. Ahmet Altan was released on bail on 22 September, only to be rearrested later on the same day. They were tried alongside 15 journalists, including Nazlı Ilıcak.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were charged with attempting to abolish the constitutional order under Article 309(1) of the Penal Code, attempting to overthrow the Turkish Grand National Assembly under Article 311(1) of the Penal Code and attempting to overthrow the government under Article 312(1) Penal Code, in relation to their appearance on television together on the evening before the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, and several articles and columns they wrote.

The trial was held before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul and consisted of five hearings that took place between 19 June 2017 and 16 February 2018. That day, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and three co-defendants were convicted of ‘attempting to overthrow the Turkish constitutional order’ and sentenced to aggravated life sentences, or life without parole.

PEN International, together with PEN Centres and free expression organisations, conducted trial observations. Proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants’ right to a fair trial, including extraordinary restrictions in their access to lawyers and in their ability to properly prepare for trial and defend themselves. Crucially, the lack of evidence showed the charges to be unfounded and amounting to arbitrary interference with the right to freedom of expression.

On 5 July 2019, Turkey’s Supreme Court overturned the 2018 verdict. It ruled that Mehmet Altan, who was released from pre-trial detention in June 2018 following judgments by the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, should be acquitted, while Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak should be retried on lesser charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member.’ At the opening hearing of the retrial on 8 October 2019, the judge refused to release Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak on bail, despite the lower charges and amount of time already served.

On 4 November 2019, Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were found guilty and sentenced to 10-and-a-half and 8 years and 9 months years in prison, respectively. They were released pending appeal and subject to a travel ban. On 6 November, the prosecutor appealed against the court decision to release Ahmet Altan on the grounds that he was a flight risk. The Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 27 granted the prosecutor’s request on 12 November. Ahmet Altan was subsequently arrested at his home that evening and sent back to Silivri prison outside Istanbul, generating a global outcry. A date for his appeal hearing has yet to be set. His case has been prioritised by the European Court of Human Rights but is still pending nearly three years after being lodged.

Ahmet Altan is the author of several novels and essays. His latest work I Will Never See the World Again, was nominated for the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.

He is an honorary member of Danish PEN, PEN Belgium/Francophone, PEN Belgium/Flanders, German PEN, and Swedish PEN.

For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt, including the complete erosion of rule of law, the absence of effective remedy for redress and the pervasive crackdown on media freedom please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

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