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Istanbul Court Defies Constitutional Body Order to Release Jailed Journalists

A local court in Istanbul defied the ruling by Turkey’s Constitutional Court for the release of two jailed journalists, setting the stage for a clash between Turkey’s two courts.

On Thursday, Constitutional Court in Ankara ordered the release of two prominent journalists, Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, on the grounds that their rights for a fair trial had been violated.

Rights campaigners had hoped the release of Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan could help dozens of other journalists arrested after the failed 2016 plot to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Alpay and Altan had been accused — in separate cases — of links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says masterminded the coup attempt. Gulen denies the charges.

The Ankara-based Constitutional Court ruled that the pair should be freed on the grounds that their rights had been violated. Six of the 11-judge panel voted in favor of their release.

It is believed to be the first time that a higher Turkish court has issued such a ruling in the aftermath of the botched coup.

But late in the evening after reviewing their cases in the light of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Istanbul criminal court ruled that both men should remain behind bars, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

A legal rationale for the new ruling was not immediately available.

After the Constitutional Court’s decision was made public, the suspects’ lawyers had taken the ruling to the lower courts in a bid to have their clients released.

The Hurriyet daily said that Istanbul court said that it had not received any formal notification of the order from the higher court, thus the release request was rejected.
‘Test Case’

Alpay, 73, is a political scientist who wrote a column for the now-closed staunchly pro-Gulen Zaman newspaper.

Mehmet Altan, 64, has written books on Turkish politics. His brother Ahmet, a novelist and journalist for some of Turkey’s leading dailies, is also being held in the same case but has not had a ruling yet.

Prosecutors in December had demanded life terms for the brothers as well as for prominent commentator Nazli Ilicak.

Their case is separate to the trial of 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from the opposition Cumhuriyet (“Republic”) daily on charges of supporting terror groups.

Three of the suspects in that case are still behind bars, including investigative reporter Ahmet Sik.

According to the P24 press freedom website, there are 151 journalists in Turkish prisons, most of whom were detained under the state of emergency imposed after the coup bid.

“I hope that this decision will be a good example for the (cases of) the dozens of journalists arbitrarily arrested” after the coup, Erol Onderoglu, the representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Turkey, told AFP before the Istanbul court decision was announced.

According to Turkish officials, over 55,000 people have been arrested in the post-coup crackdown whose magnitude has been criticised by Turkey’s Western allies.

Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe, had also hailed the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

“Turkey’s highest court has finally broken its silence on the flagrant attack on journalists and other critical voices,” she said in a statement.

“This ruling must serve as a test case and lead to the release of thousands of others arbitrarily detained under the ongoing post-coup crackdown.”

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