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Turkey: Writer Ahmet Altan released from prison

Thursday 15 April 2021 - 11:00am

Ahmet Altan

15 April 2021 – In response to news that Turkish writer and journalist Ahmet Altan was released from prison yesterday, after Turkey’s Court of Cassation overturned his conviction, Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

‘The PEN community welcomes the long-awaited release of Ahmet Altan, after more than four gruelling years spent behind bars on trumped-up terrorism charges. As we rejoice at the sight of the novelist embracing his loved ones, we do not forget how months ago the Turkish authorities freed him, only to cruelly send him back to jail eight days later. This cannot happen again. While we celebrate Ahmet Altan’s freedom, we remember those who remain unjustly jailed, including Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş, Nedim Türfent and İlhan Çomak, and forcefully call for their immediate release.’

First arrested in September 2016, Ahmet Altan spent over three years in pre-trial detention, in what amounts to judicial harassment. Sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in prison 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 – a move PEN International denounced as a ‘despicable act’. On 14 April 2021, Turkey’s Court of Cassation overturned his conviction; he was immediately released due to time served.

The Court of Cassation’s ruling follows a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights, issued on 13 April, ordering Turkey to free Ahmet Altan immediately and pay him €16,000 in damages for violating his rights to freedom of expression, as it found ‘no evidence that the actions of the applicant had been part of a plan to overthrow the government’.

Ahmet Altan’s release comes in the wake of sustained mobilisation. Scores of PEN Centres across the world have been actively campaigning on his behalf, by notably sending appeals to the Turkish authorities, conducting trial observations, taking part in solidarity actions and promoting his writings, amongst other advocacy efforts.

Additional information

Ahmet Altan, 71, is a prominent Turkish writer, novelist and journalist. His acclaimed work I Will Never See the World Again, was nominated for the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.

Ahmet Altan 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.

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.

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

For more information about PEN International’s campaign on behalf of Ahmet Altan 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