Turkish police arrest journalist Altan a week after his release

Journalist and writer Ahmet Altan walks with Turkish police as his daughter Senem Altan tries to say him goodbye as he is detained on November 12, 2019, at Kadikoy neighbourhood in Istanbul. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Turkish police arrest journalist Altan a week after his release

  • Altan and the others deny the charges against them
  • On Tuesday a higher court overruled the decision to release Altan, ordering his arrest on grounds that there was a risk of him fleeing

ISTANBUL: A court in Istanbul arrested prominent Turkish novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan on Nov. 13, just a week after he was released from prison on Nov. 4 in a case related to the failed coup attempt of 2016.

His re-arrest has been highly criticized. Some European NGOs consider the decision as a move to put Altan under an “intense psychological torture.”

Almost at the same time of his re-arrest, the 69-year-old’s latest book, “I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer,” was selected by Amazon’s best 20 books of 2019.

Altan was previously sentenced to life imprisonment not only for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, but also for helping the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, believed to be the mastermind of the failed coup attempt in Turkey. He was then released under judicial control.

Denying the charges against himself, Altan said “If you want to keep me in prison you can hold me as long as you wish, prison does not scare me. I would rather complete my life in prison than be scared of such a government. 

Sinem Adar, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, tweeted: “There are many continuities in today’s Turkey with those of the past. Two factors however make the former quite distinct: Institutional deterioration, and intra-state struggle. Think of Altan’s re-arrest with reference to these two factors.”

Emma Sinclair-Webb, director of Human Rights Watch Turkey, said the decision to re-arrest Altan is the latest example of how courts in Turkey do the bidding of the executive in locking up particular government critics.

“Altan was released after over three years in pretrial detention on trumped-up charges,” she told Arab News. This is a scandalous case and the EU has rightly pointed out a high level of political interference and demanded an end to it, she said.

Summarizing the irony behind the whole judicial process, Sinclair-Webb said: “After a bogus trial and then a bogus retrial he was convicted and given a massive prison sentence but released pending appeal of that conviction. The prosecutor appealed his release. The first court rejected the appeal but a second court accepted it and issued a warrant for Altan’s arrest. Instead of informing his lawyer, the court informed the pro-government media and that is how he learnt he was about to be rearrested.”

“Altan is the first person in Turkish judicial history to be released two times and arrested three times for the same trial,” Altan’s former lawyer, Veysel Ok, told Arab News.

According to Ok, “The pressure from pro-government media outlets has been determinant on the result and there is no judicial explanation. It is just an act of vengeance.”

He expects the case to be brought to the European Court of Human Rights because all domestic legal avenues are now exhausted.

“This case should be resolved quickly for the prestige of the rule of law in Turkey,” he said.

Amnesty International said the decision was a scandalous injustice. “This judicial farce is emblematic of a period where politically motivated show trials have become the norm,” the organization’s Europe director, Marie Struthers, said

The EU is also concerned about the case of Altan and reminded Turkey, as a candidate country for accession since 1999, the membership requirements of media freedom and freedom of expression as a key to a functioning democracy.

“The lack of credible grounds to re-arrest Altan and his renewed imprisonment, reversing the court’s initial decision to release him, further damages the credibility of Turkey’s judiciary, in particular due to the high level of political interference. This interference needs to halt,” the EU said.

“Journalists need to do their job — they do not belong in jail,” the EU added.


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”