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.