English PEN welcomes the news that the aggravated life sentences handed down to leading writer Ahmet Altan, academic and economist Mehmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak and their three co-defendants in February 2018 have finally been overturned.
On 5 July 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the 2018 verdict and ruled that Mehmet Altan should be acquitted due to ‘a lack of sufficient and credible evidence‘. However, Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and their co-defendants are still in detention and could instead face charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member.’
Philippe Sands, President of English PEN, said:
I welcome the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the convictions of Ahmet Altan and five others, an important step, but deeply regret the failure to order Ahmet’s immediate release from prison. The UK Government and Foreign Secretary, and other governments that claim to be committed to the rule of law and freedom of expression, should call for the immediate release of Ahmet, wrongly imprisoned for three years, and the other defendants.
Hannah Trevarthen, Interim Director, said:
We welcome the news that the sentence of aggravated life imprisonment handed down to Ahmet Altan and his co-defendants last year has finally been overturned and the ruling that his brother Mehmet Altan should be acquitted. We nevertheless remain deeply concerned that Ahmet Altan and four of his co-defendants remain in detention. We continue to call on the Turkish authorities to release them and the many others still imprisoned in Turkey, the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
PEN has been campaigning for the Altans release since they were first arrested, initially on charges of ‘subliminal messaging’, almost three years ago, including through our Speak Out campaign in partnership with the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, and through the Free Turkey Media coalition.
Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, said:
We are relieved that the convictions of Ahmet Altan and his co-defendants for aggravated life imprisonment have been overturned. However we remain concerned that they are still being held in detention with the possibility of fresh charges being brought against them. This is a deep miscarriage of justice and a flagrant disregard for freedom of expression. We urge the UK Government to put pressure on the Turkish authorities to release Ahmet Altan and the many journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey.
While we welcome the Supreme Court ruling, we continue to call for Ahmet Altan, his co-defendants, and the many other writers who remain imprisoned in Turkey to be released immediately and unconditionally. We also urge the UK government and the Foreign Office, currently preparing for their Media Freedom conference, to do more to support journalists in prison and otherwise at risk in Turkey.