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.

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 50 min 22 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”