Turkey: Drop charges against the Altan brothers for expressing dissenting views

Update: On the evening of 22 September a new arrest warrant was issued for Ahmet Altan, this time related to headlines from Taraf daily newspaper when he was editor several years ago, and he surrendered himself to the police. 

On 21 September, academic and writer Mehmet Altan, and his brother, writer and ex-editor of Taraf newspaper, Ahmet Altan were charged with membership of, assisting and propaganda for a terrorist organisation and attempting to overthrow the government. 

ARTICLE 19 believes the Altan brothers have been charged solely for holding and expressing dissenting views and call for charges to be dropped and Mehmet Altan to be immediately and unconditionally released.

At the court in Istanbul, Mehmet and Ahmet Altan were formally charged, on 21 September. The charges of membership of, assisting and propaganda for a terrorist organisation and attempting to overthrow the government, relate to a television interview they gave the night before the coup attempt, in which they criticised President Erdogan.

Upon his release, Ahmet Altan gave a television interview in which he claimed that the court questioned him on his thoughts, beliefs and opinions rather than actions related to a crime. Turkish anti-terror legislation allows individuals to be charged as a member of a terrorist organisation simply for expressing ideas or opinions, without any proof of involvement in an act of violence.

The brothers had been detained in a police holding cell for 11 days before appearing in court in Istanbul on 21 September and receiving formal charges. Under the current state of emergency in Turkey individuals can be detained without charge for up to 30 days. On 22 September, Mehmet Altan was sent to prison in pre-trial detention, while his brother, Ahmet was released from detention on probation.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the government is using the state of emergency to silence critical voices. Since the declaration of the state of emergency, over 100 media outlets have been closed and nearly 100 journalists have been imprisoned. Many more journalists and writers have been detained without charge.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon Turkey to: 

  • drop the charges against Ahmet and Mehmet Altan; 
  • immediately and unconditionally release Mehmet Altan;
  • release all journalists and writers imprisoned on the sole basis of having expressed ideas or opinions, in the absence of individualised evidence of involvement in a crime;
  • refrain from extending the current state of emergency after its expiration on 21 October 2016, unless able to demonstrate that the domestic situation still constitutes a public emergency that threatens the life of the nation and that emergency measures are strictly required to confront that situation; and
  • reform the anti-terror legislation to ensure that it is in line with Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law.