Turkish journalist Altan released after more than four years in jail

Turkish journalist Altan released after more than four years in jail
Journalist and writer Ahmet Altan arrested by Turkish police in 2019 in Istanbul. Top Turkish court on Wednesday released him a day after European Court of Human Rights demanded Altan’s release. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Turkish journalist Altan released after more than four years in jail

Turkish journalist Altan released after more than four years in jail
  • European top court’s ruling obliged Ankara to set dissident author free and pay $19,000 in non-pecuniary damages

ANKARA: A prominent Turkish journalist was released from jail on Wednesday after being held behind bars for more than four years over charges related to a failed 2016 government coup attempt.

Ahmet Altan, 71, was freed after Turkey's Court of Cassation, the country’s top appeals court, overturned the conviction against him a day earlier and ordered his release. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey violated Altan's rights to liberty and security, and ordered the country to pay him 16,000 euros ($19,000) in non-pecuniary damages. The top European court also claimed that there was no indication to prove that Altan was involved in a deliberate plan to overthrow the government. 

“Deprivation of liberty, in particular continued detention, must be based on reasonable suspicion,” the ECHR ruling said.

Altan, who had been incarcerated since September 2016, was previously sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for trying to “overthrow the constitutional order.” He was also accused of “disseminating subliminal messages announcing the military coup” with his televised speeches and writings — charges he always denied. 

Altan, an award-winning novelist, is also a former editor-in-chief of the dissident Taraf newspaper and wrote politically-sensitive articles and columns critical of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporting Kurdish rights.

Following his appeal, the Court of Cassation had overruled in July 2019 the aggravated prison term and ruled that the novelist should be sentenced for “knowingly aiding an armed terrorist organization” behind the coup attempt. 

Altan was then sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail and the court ruled for his release on condition of judicial control, although he was re-arrested soon after as the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the ruling that set him free. 

The case was brought to the Constitutional Court on Nov. 21, 2019 as his lawyer cited lack of the necessary conditions for imprisonment, but the application was dismissed a year after. 

“The release of Ahmet Altan is the best news for freedom of expression coming from Turkey in a long time. However, charges against him continue and his freedom cannot be taken for granted,” Laura Batalla Adam, secretary-general of the European Union Turkey Forum, told Arab News. 

Batalla-Adam said Altan’s case is only one of many. 

After last year’s amnesty law in Turkey, tens of thousands of prisoners were released to ease the overcrowding, but the law exempted political prisoners and dissident journalists. 

The politically motivated detention of the Turkish novelist has been at the top of the international community’s agenda for a long time. 

Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano recently penned an open letter to Altan, saying his incarceration “must concern us all.” 

“They took away your freedom. To freeze your words, they locked you up in a cell,” he wrote. 

A group of 17 Swedish journalists also urged Ankara in February to immediately release Altan. “You can put opponents in jail with Kafkaesque reasons but you can never imprison freedom of expression,” they wrote in a joint declaration. 

During last week’s summit in Ankara, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel slammed Turkey for its deteriorating record on human rights and urged Ankara to respect human rights norms if it wants to have stronger ties with the EU. 

Tarik Beyhan, campaigns and communications director of Amnesty International Turkey, said: “Ahmet Altan’s release is great but he should never have been arrested.”

He told Arab News: “Better late than never, but his arrest and detention had been politically motivated. He had been put behind bars arbitrarily, was deprived of his liberty for more than four and a half years solely because he has been perceived as a government critic.”  

Now attention is shifting toward other politically motivated cases in Turkey, especially the notable incarcerations of Turkish philanthropist and businessperson Osman Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas. 

The European top court also ruled for the immediate release of both, although these legally binding decisions have not yet been implemented by the Turkish judiciary that is criticized for being insufficiently independent of the political sphere.  

“Turkey’s implementation of European Court of Human Rights’ judgment is good for Altan, but he is just one among many real or perceived government opponents unjustly jailed or imprisoned under trumped-up charges for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly or association, and must be released immediately,” Beyhan said. 

“The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are legally binding and Turkey cannot keep choosing whether to implement them or not.”

Experts also note that Altan’s release might be the result of Erdogan’s latest attempts to mend ties with the west, especially the EU and US President Joe Biden. 

The Biden administration has already prioritized democratization and human rights before putting bilateral relations with Turkey back on track. 

“As part of the recent charm offensive, the government should prove its real commitment to human rights and start to apply all the pending rulings from the ECHR, namely in the case of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas,” Batalla-Adam said. 

“Making progress in the elements contained in the positive agenda requires genuine democratic improvements.”


UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem
Updated 1 min 56 sec ago

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem
  • Antonio Guterres says Israel must "cease the demolitions and evictions" of Palestinian homes
  • US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan calls his Israeli counterpart to express "serious concerns" over the increasing violence

JERUSALEM: Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters inside a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site on Monday.
Officers fired tear gas and stun grenades and protesters hurled stones and other objects at police.
Police said protesters threw stones from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound onto an adjoining roadway.
Palestinians reported stun grenades fired into the mosque compound, with dozens injured.

Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres believes Israel “must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” a UN spokesman said, as tensions rise in East Jerusalem around al Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest mosque.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“He urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions.”

Guterres urged that the status quo at the holy sites be upheld and respected, Dujarric said.

 

The late-night skirmishes raised the likelihood of further clashes Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations. Israeli police gave the go-ahead to the parade Sunday, despite days of unrest and soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighborhood where Jewish settlers are trying to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.

 

Addressing a special Cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”

“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said, “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”

The United States again expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City, home to sites sacred by Muslims and Jews, and Israeli police, as well as the expected expulsion of Palestinian families.

Washington made its concerns during a phone call between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart. Sullivan urged Israel “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.

Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. But the annual event is widely perceived as provocative, as hard-line nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes. That, combined with Palestinian anger over the eviction plan in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, could set the stage for an especially volatile day.

Amos Gilad, a former senior defense official, told Army Radio that the parade should be canceled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.” Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said the final route of the parade had not yet been decided.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It has been a tinderbox for serious violence in the past.

“The occupier plays with fire, and tampering with Jerusalem is very dangerous,” Saleh Arouri, a top Hamas official, told the militant group’s Al-Aqsa TV station.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

The violence, along with the planned evictions in east Jerusalem, have drawn condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and expressions of concern from the United States, Europe and the United Nations.
In Sunday night’s clashes, Palestinian protesters shouted at police and pelted them with rocks and bottles, while police fired stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. Palestinian medics said at least 14 protesters were injured.
The clashes were less intense than the previous two nights. Police said over 20 police officers had been injured in recent days.
But there were signs the violence was beginning to spread.
Late Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts near the border in retaliation for the rocket fire. There were no reports of injuries.
Earlier in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post in response to another rocket attack. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police also clashed with hundreds of Arab students at Israel’s Hebrew University, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd. Police said 15 people were arrested at another protest in the northern city of Haifa.
Jordan and Egypt, the first two countries to strike peace deals with Israel, both summoned senior Israeli diplomats to condemn the Israeli actions.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who acts as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, condemned what he called “Israeli violations and escalating practices” and urged Israel to halt its “provocations against Jerusalemites.”
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the events in Jerusalem with worry and called for an end to the clashes.
“Violence only generates violence,” he told the public gathered at St. Peter’s Square.
With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The decision had been expected for Monday, but was pushed back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court said
Palestinians and international rights groups portray the planned evictions as a part of a campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods, especially in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute.
The flare-up in hostilities comes at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government. If they succeed, Netanyahu would be pushed to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.


Turkey wants to start a fresh chapter with EU despite obstacles

Turkey wants to start a fresh chapter with EU despite obstacles
European Union leaders continue to warn of sanctions against Turkey if Ankara continues exploring for gas and oil in contested waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus. (Reuters/File)
Updated 10 May 2021

Turkey wants to start a fresh chapter with EU despite obstacles

Turkey wants to start a fresh chapter with EU despite obstacles
  • Erosion of liberties, disputes with Cyprus and Greece mean membership still some way off

ANKARA: Since the approval of its candidacy to EU membership in 1999, Turkish relations with Brussels have been strained, exacerbated by Turkey’s controversial moves in the eastern Mediterranean and concerns over its ongoing democratic issues.

Now, though, Turkey wants to begin a new era with the EU, despite recent diplomatic gaffes, such as the Sofagate crisis, when Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, was not given a seat next to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during her high-profile visit to Ankara.
“Turkey keeps its determined stance and efforts toward its strategic goal of EU membership, despite the double standards and obstacles it faces,” Erdogan said in a statement on May 9, celebrated across the bloc as Europe Day. “Turkey’s membership will pave the way for the rise of a Europe that is more effective at regional and global levels, giving hope not only to its citizens, but also to the people of its neighborhood as well as the whole world.”
Some EU member states, especially Greece, France and Cyprus, continue to halt accession negotiations with Turkey, citing the country’s eroding democracy, human rights issues and the rule of law at home. The nonimplementation of European Court of Human Rights’ rulings by Ankara has also drawn anger from Brussels.
Dr. Ilke Toygur, CATS fellow at German think tank SWP Berlin, said that it is important to be realistic over Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU.
“After months of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, 2021 has (seen) a positive spin Turkey-EU relations. This positive agenda is, however, centered on fruitful cooperation rather than advancing Turkey’s accession negotiations,” she told Arab News.
Ankara is seeking an update to the 2016 refugee deal that obliges Turkey to stem the tide of people seeking to reach Europe from its shores in return for financial aid. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson paid a visit to Turkey on Friday for talks about the deal, and to discuss visa liberalization.
The EU offered Turkey €6 billion ($7.1 billion) to help Syrian refugees, but only €3.6 billion have been sent so far — a point of contention for Ankara. However, the deal was criticized by some EU member states, who claimed Turkey had used millions of Syrian refugees as leverage against Brussels to extract more money.

FASTFACT

Some EU member states, especially Greece, France and Cyprus, continue to halt accession negotiations with Turkey, citing the country’s eroding democracy, human rights issues and the rule of law at home. The non-implementation of European Court of Human Rights’ rulings by Ankara has also drawn anger from Brussels.

In February 2020, Turkey allowed thousands of migrants gathered on the border with Greece to make their way toward Europe.  
Turkey’s negotiations to join the EU began in 2015, but the unresolved Cyprus conflict has always been a barrier to progress, while EU leaders continue to warn of sanctions against Turkey if the country continues exploring for gas and oil in contested waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Ankara’s EU candidacy should be formally suspended if Turkey continues on its “autocratic track,” EU lawmakers at the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee stated on April 23, adding that the country no longer fulfilled the democratic criteria to be accepted as a candidate, let alone a full member, to the EU.
However, Turkey remains dependent on trade with the bloc. Exports to EU member states surged by 35 percent and reached $26.86 billion in the first four months of 2021. Ankara also expects the expansion of the EU-Turkey Customs Union to new sectors of its economy, like services and agricultural trade.
Toygur thinks the EU would like to work on existing trade issues and pave the way for Customs Union modernization; however, the process itself would require an official mandate and a lot of good will from both sides to settle issues of contention.
“High level of dialogue in older files, such as transport, economy or energy, as well as new files (such as) global health or climate change, are also concrete proposals on the table,” she said.
The German Marshall Fund’s latest public opinion survey “Turkish Perceptions of the European Union” revealed, however, that half of Turkish young people think the EU does not intend to let the country join the bloc.
Despite this, Turkish public opinion favors the EU as the closest partner in dealing with international matters, while this trend seems stronger in people aged 18-24 compared to the general population. 68.8 percent of Turkish young people said they would vote “yes” in any referendum on EU membership.


Dozens sign petition for the release of abducted Yemeni model

Dozens sign petition for the release of abducted Yemeni model
An armed supporter of the Houthis sits in the back of a pick-up. (AFP/File)
Updated 10 May 2021

Dozens sign petition for the release of abducted Yemeni model

Dozens sign petition for the release of abducted Yemeni model
  • Amnesty International on Friday urged the Houthis to halt plans for subjecting the model to virginity testing and to release her, also accusing the militia of arbitrarily detaining opposition figures, journalists, and other artists and actresses

AL-MUKALLA: Dozens of Yemeni activists, politicians and journalists have signed an online petition to force the Iran-backed Houthis to release the abducted Yemeni model Entesar Al-Hammadi and her colleagues.
Appalled by reports that the Houthis would subject the model to virginity testing, the petition called upon the militants to apologize to the model and release her.
“We strongly call for the immediate release of Entesar Al-Hammadi and her colleagues and (for) an apology for Entesar Al-Hammadi and her colleagues for (this) arbitrary detention,” the petition read.
Amnesty International on Friday urged the Houthis to halt plans for subjecting the model to virginity testing and to release her, also accusing the militia of arbitrarily detaining opposition figures, journalists, and other artists and actresses.

BACKGROUND

Amnesty International on Friday urged the Houthis to halt plans for subjecting the model to virginity testing and to release her, also accusing the militia of arbitrarily detaining opposition figures, journalists, and other artists and actresses.

Snatched by the Houthis in a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model was thrown into solitary confinement as the rebels banned media coverage of the case and forbade her lawyer from speaking to international news outlets.
Ahmed Seif Hashed, an MP, described the group as “the worst” rulers Yemen had on Twitter.


Cairo to extend initiative supporting internal tourism until the end of May

Cairo to extend initiative supporting internal tourism until the end of May
Updated 10 May 2021

Cairo to extend initiative supporting internal tourism until the end of May

Cairo to extend initiative supporting internal tourism until the end of May
  • The two ministries confirmed that the extension will come with a 50 percent capacity for accommodation

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministries of Civil Aviation, Tourism and Antiquities has announced the extension of the internal tourism support initiative until May 31.

In a joint statement, the two ministries said that the decision was in accordance with the directives of Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to extend the work of the initiative to support internal tourism in Egypt until May 31 instead of mid-May.

The two ministries confirmed that the extension will come with a 50 percent capacity for accommodation, in accordance with the established operating controls, with precautionary measures and health safety controls applied at all airports, museums, archaeological sites, restaurants, cafeterias and tourist buses.

The decision follows the government’s encouragement of support for the tourism, aviation and working sector after the guidance of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to support the sector and its employees, and to revitalize tourism.

The initiative was launched by the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Tourism and Antiquities in January, in accordance with the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee for Tourism and Antiquities in December 2020.


Palestinian protests deter Jewish extremists

Palestinian protests deter Jewish extremists
Israeli police take position during clashes with Palestinians on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, at Jerusalem's Old City, May 8, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 09 May 2021

Palestinian protests deter Jewish extremists

Palestinian protests deter Jewish extremists
  • Protests continued in the Old City and in the streets of East Jerusalem, with Red Crescent officials reporting injuries and saying that Israeli police were obstructing their work
  • The Arab League has agreed to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the issues around Jerusalem, including the Israeli attacks against worshippers in Al-Aqsa and Israeli plans to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities appear set to re-route the traditional Jerusalem Unity Day parade which has been known to be provocative and anti-Arab.

Israeli media reported that security officials on Sunday urged the government to rethink the annual event, a flag-waving display of Israeli claims to all of the contested city set to take place Monday, following days of unrest and Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the capital.

Ynet reported that Israeli security officials “called for the government to reconsider the route, the number of marchers, and even the event itself.”

Persistent and widespread protests in Jerusalem have brought worldwide condemnation of Israel, and the security establishment appears to have won the day in pressing right-wing politicians to lower tensions.

Protests continued in the Old City and in the streets of East Jerusalem, with Red Crescent officials reporting injuries and saying that Israeli police were obstructing their work.

Parades are also scheduled to coincide with an Israeli court decision about an appeal request against eviction orders for Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Tens of thousands of people, including many Palestinian citizens of Israel, flooded Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque to commemorate the holy night of Laylat Al-Qadar, the first revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad.

Most people have vowed to stay in Al-Aqsa to protect it from public calls from Jewish extremist groups.

The mosque’s preacher Ekrima Sabri said that what happened on Monday would depend on the occupiers.

“For our part, we  are holding onto our mosque and our faith and will defend it until the last breath,” he told Arab News.

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, the former president of Al-Quds University, said what was happening in the city was a wake-up call.

“Events in Jerusalem have reminded Israel and the rest of the world that peace with the continued occupation is impossible, as is Israeli sovereignty over Arab Jerusalem,” he told Arab News. “Palestinians will not disappear with the passing of time, nor will justice. Israel will not have a future if it continues to trample on Palestinian rights and their national and religious sites and symbols.”

Ahmad Budeiri, Al-Ghad TV reporter in Jerusalem, summarized the situation as favoring the Palestinians in the short-term as long as the protests on the ground kept the pressure on.

“There is no doubt that the protests in Jerusalem and the persistence of Jerusalemites to defended their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and their holy places is what moved the international community as well as the Israeli security forces and to react,” said Ahmad Budeiri.

But it might be a temporary victory because the overall strategy of the Israelis would not be easily changed, he added.

In Amman, there were protests calling on the government to close down the Israeli embassy in Jordan and to recall the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv.

The Arab League has agreed to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the issues around Jerusalem, including the Israeli attacks against worshippers in Al-Aqsa and Israeli plans to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.

In Kuwait, football players wore the Palestinian keffiyeh as a sign of support for the people of Jerusalem.

Luis Miguel Bueno, an EU diplomat who is the bloc’s official Arabic spokesman, condemned the attacks and the incitement against the faithful.

“The occupation forces must respect its obligations according to international law,” he tweeted in Arabic. “We call for the immediate de-escalation. East Jerusalem is part of the occupied territories for which international humanitarian law applies.”

The Jerusalem Waqf Council called on people to stay overnight at Al-Aqsa as a precaution to ensure that radical Jewish groups would be deterred from entering the mosque.

It promised to provide iftar and suhoor to all free of charge.