Turkey’s top court rejects legal appeal by prominent journalist Ahmet Altan

Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected a legal appeal by imprisoned journalist and writer Ahmet Altan against his arrest for aiding a terrorist organisation, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Wednesday.

In November last year, a court ruled to overturn Altan's conviction on attempting to overthrow the government, the charge he was originally arrested for in 2016, and instead convicted him of the lesser crime of aiding a terrorist organisation. It ruled for Altan's release, citing time he had already spent in prison. Altan remained free on probation for one week, after which he was detained again when the prosecutor for the case appealed his release.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Altan’s second arrest did not violate his rights, as it was made for a pre-existing conviction of supporting terrorism, for which he still had part of his sentence left to serve, and therefore did not constitute pre-trial detention. It said Altan was deprived of his freedom based on court orders, thus his re-arrest had not been arbitrary.

Altan is among several high-profile public figures arrested and jailed since a failed military coup in July 2016. His trial and those of philanthropist Osman Kavala and prominent Kurdish politicians have raised concerns about the rule of law in Turkey and contributed to a decision by the European Union to freeze negotiations on the country’s membership.

The court also dismissed an assertion by Altan that he had not been given a fair trial, calling it abstract and not based on any concrete evidence.

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced plans for sweeping judicial reform. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül also underscored the government’’s commitment to the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, leading to speculation that Turkey may release prominent political prisoners.

But last week Erdoğan labelled Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş, the former leader of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish political party who has spent four years behind bars, as terrorists, damping hopes for the release of the prisoners.

Turkey says Altan and Kavala aided the Gülen movement, which it blames for the coup attempt. Kavala, in jail for more than three years, was also accused of seeking to overthrow the government by organising Istanbul’s Gezi Park protests of 2013, which turned into a nationwide demonstration against the governing Justice and Development Party. The philanthropist is currently in prison over charges of espionage.