Ahmet Altan is an acclaimed Turkish novelist, essayist and journalist. In a career spanning 30 years, Altan has written ten novels which have been translated into many languages and reached bestseller lists around the world. He has also written for many of Turkey’s leading papers, including Hürriyet, Milliyet and Radikal and from November 2007 until December 2012 was editor-in-chief of liberal Turkish daily newspaper Taraf.
Ahmet Altan is among the many writers and journalists to have been imprisoned in Turkey in the wake of the attempted coup that took place in July 2016. Ahmet was detained alongside his brother, the renowned economist and journalist Mehmet Altan, in a dawn raid in September 2016. Charges leaked to the press included ‘giving subliminal messages in favour of a coup on television’ the night before the failed insurgency.
On learning of the supposed charges, Ahmet commented:
Why are we confronted with this legal monstrosity? I surmise two reasons.
One motive is to sow fear by showing that ‘we can silence any sort of criticism with all manner of absurdities.’
The second reason is to turn the July 15 coup investigation into some sort of nonsense; some sort of joke and thus divert it from its course.
I do not know why they are so fearful of investigating the coup or why they are trying so hard to divert the investigation from its course.
But this I know: distorting the law to serve these two purposes is itself a serious crime.
Ahmet and his brother remained in detention until 22 September when they were both charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘attempting to overthrow the government’. Ahmet was released on probation but placed under ‘judicial control’ and subject to a travel ban, while his brother was sent to prison. On leaving the courthouse after the overnight hearing which had lasted nearly 12 hours, Ahmet spoke to the press, saying ‘This country is ours, we are not afraid. We’ll always defend law and democracy’. Within 24 hours of his release, he was detained yet again and sent to prison.
More than six months later, in April 2017, it was reported that the prosecutor had demanded three aggravated life sentences for the brothers. Shortly afterwards, on World Press Freedom Day, it was announced that their first hearing has been scheduled to take place on 19 June.
While Ahmet Altan is no stranger to the courts – he has been prosecuted many times over his career and remains on trial for ‘leaking state secrets’ – the conditions of his detention on this occasion are a cause of particular concern. Ahmet and his brother are reported to have very limited access to their lawyers and families, and no access to prison facilities such as the library and sports hall. Meanwhile they are banned from sending or receiving any letters or other written communications.
English PEN believes the charges against Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet to be politically motivated and in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
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