European Rights Court condemns Turkey over journalist jailings | News | DW | 20.03.2018
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European Rights Court condemns Turkey over journalist jailings

Turkey violated the rights to liberty, security and freedom of expression of two journalists it detained for alleged terror ties, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled. Over 150 journalists are in jail in Turkey.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey had acted illegally in detaining two journalists despite the Supreme Court issuing an order for their release.

Mehmet Atlan and Sahin Alpay were two of hundreds of journalists arrested on tenuous terror charges after the July 2016 failed coup attempt. It is the first ECHR verdict on the situation facing journalists in Turkey.

Read more: We must speak up for free expression in Turkey

What the ruling said:

  • The ECHR noted that "there is a general problem in Turkey concerning the interpretation of anti-terrorism laws," and agreed with the plaintiffs that "dealing with matters of public interest" did not constitute incitement to violence.
  • The court found in particular that "Mr. Alpay's pre-trial detention... could not be regarded as 'lawful' and 'in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law.'"
  • Atlan's detention "could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society."
  • Judges ordered Turkey to pay each man €21,500 euros. 
  • Turkish Judge Ergin Ergül issued a partly dissenting opinion to the case, claiming the ECHR was overstepping national authority.
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Why this matters: The EU has been extremely critical of the Turkish government's handling of the rule of law. This ruling by one of Europe's highest courts allows Brussels to exert more diplomatic, political and moral pressure on Turkey to end the post-coup crackdown.

What's happened so far: Since 2016, the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have used the failed putsch to arrest hundreds of journalists who have been critical of the government or who have expressed sympathy for the country's Kurdish population that is seeking autonomy.

Who are the plaintiffs? Atlan and Alpay were both academics who also worked for the daily Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey's oldest and most prestigious newspapers. Almost half of the paper's reporters, columnists and executives are in jail.

Why were they jailed? In February, Atlan and his brother Ahmet Atlan were sentenced to life in prison for belonging to a terrorist organization for alleged ties to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara has accused of orchestrating the failed coup. In March, Alpay was released from prison and sent into house arrest.

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Further condemnation

On Tuesday, the UN said that Turkey had committed "profound human rights abuses against hundreds of thousands of people," and accused Ankara of extending the post-coup state of emergency in order to crack down on opposition.

The UN accused Turkey of carrying out torture and arbitrary detentions in what it called "a continued erosion of the rule of law and deterioration of the human rights situation."

"The numbers are just staggering: nearly 160,000 people arrested during an 18-month state of emergency," said UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

What happens next: According to an ECHR spokeswoman, the Turkish authorities are revisiting the cases of Atlan and Alpay. The UN has called on Turkey to "promptly end the state of emergency and restore the normal functioning of institutions and the rule of law." While international pressure has led Erdogan's government to reconsider some cases, such as that of German journalist Deniz Yücel, Ankara has shown little sign of slowing its crackdown on critical voices.

es/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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