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The European Court of Human Rights today ruled that the rights to liberty and security in the cases of journalist and academic Mehmet Altan and political scientist and journalist Şahin Alpay had been violated. The court also ordered the Turkish state to pay the applicants EUR 21,500 each in compensation.

Today’s ruling on Mehmet Altan supported his right to free speech and liberty by declaring that the “continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”.

The International Press Institute (IPI) welcomes this important decision and its implication for other journalists in pretrial detention in Turkey and hopes that this will lead to the release on bail of many other Turkish and Kurdish journalists held in prison pending trial.

However, IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford remarked that “this decision comes too late for Mehmet Altan who, although he will be financially compensated, is now subject to a disproportionately heavy aggravated life sentence.  We are still very concerned that there is a dire lack of evidence in cases against journalists in Turkey and that pretrial detention is being used as a prior punishment and method of removing them for years at a time from political and social debate.”

Veysel Ok, the lawyer who first submitted Şahin Alpay’s application to the Constitutional Court on September 8, 2016 called today’s decision a “cautious ruling” and stressed that the ECtHR’s decision made no mention of whether it considered Turkey’s highest court an effective route of domestic legal recourse.  In this way, he claimed, the country’s constitutional court was given “another chance”.

Translation: In the ruling, mention was made that the failure of the lower courts to implement the constitutional court’s decision was in contravention of the principles of the rule of law.  However, it (the ECtHR) did not say that the route of individual legal recourse at the constitutional court was completely closed.

The European Court of Human Rights found by a majority that the rights of applicants Altan and Alpay to liberty and security enshrined in Article 5 and those of freedom of expression outlined in Article 10 had been violated.  But, as lawyer Ok pointed out, it ruled that there had been no violation of Article 5, paragraph 4 which secures the right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of detention.

“It was encouraging to learn on Friday 16 March that the lower court in Turkey upheld the second Consitutional Court decision ruling that Şahin Alpay’s rights to liberty and security had been infringed by his pretrial detention and to see him released after 20 months in prison,” Stockford stated.

“However, Alpay remains under illegal house arrest and IPI calls not only for his release from this constraint, but for his full acquittal”.

The European Court of Human Rights decision can be read in full here:

ECHR – Mehmet Altan

ECHR – Şahin Alpay