Turkey to lift state of emergency

Turkey frees journalist Mehmet Altan but some 180 others remain detained, most of them jailed under the state of emergency.
Thursday 28/06/2018
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) meets with leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli at the presidential palace in Ankara, on June 27. (Presidential Press Service via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) meets with leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli at the presidential palace in Ankara, on June 27. (Presidential Press Service via AP)

LONDON – Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and his government alliance partner have agreed not to extend emergency rule when the current three-month period expires in July, the pro-government Sabah newspaper said on Thursday.

The state of emergency has been in place since after an attempted coup in July 2016 and has been extended every three months since then. Erdogan said this month it would be lifted if he won the June 24 elections.

Erdogan won 53 percent of the vote in Sunday’s presidential vote, extending his rule until at least 2023 – but now with the sweeping executive powers that Turks narrowly backed in a referendum last year.

Erdogan and his alliance partner, the national MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, held a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Sources have said Erdogan could give the MHP cabinet posts, rewarding their support for his AK Party in parliament.

“In the talks, agreement was reached not to extend the state of emergency,” the Sabah newspaper said without providing details. It did not specify the source of its report.

The state of emergency enables Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms. Critics say Erdogan has used the state of emergency as a pretext to quash dissent. Turkey has said the measures are necessary to fend off security threats. 

Turkish parliament
Turkish parliament

Turkey frees journalist Mehmet Altan 

Turkish journalist Mehmet Altan was Wednesday freed after almost two years in jail in a case that intensified concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey.

Altan, first arrested in September 2016 for alleged links to the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup and then sentenced to life jail, was released from the Silivri prison outside Istanbul following an earlier court ruling, the P24 press freedom group said in a statement.

His conviction and life sentence have not been quashed and he remains subject to a travel ban and obligation to report to authorities regularly.

The constitutional court in January had ruled that Altan should be released on the grounds his rights had been violated but, to the fury of his supporters, a lower criminal court ignored this and he remained in jail.

The European Court of Human Rights had in March also ruled that Altan’s human rights had been violated by his detention.

“I am freed after 21 months, when I should never have been taken into custody,” P24 quoted him as saying outside the jail where he was welcomed by friends and colleagues.

“Let my release be some hope on the way to law and democracy,” he added. “Got willing this will mark an end to this persecution.”

Wednesday’s ruling was made by an Istanbul regional court which heard his appeal and based its decision on the previous “binding” ruling of the constitutional court.

“The release of Mehmet Altan was long overdue,” Amnesty International’s Europe Director Gauri van Gulik said in a statement.

“His imprisonment was a travesty of justice that was emblematic of the deep flaws within the Turkish justice system.”

Altan, an economics professor and columnist for top newspapers, was sentenced to life in jail in February alongside other prominent suspects including his brother Ahmet, a writer and novelist, and veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak.

The Istanbul regional court ruled to keep Ahmet Altan and Ilicak in jail and adjourned the next session in the appeal hearing for September 21. Mehmet Altan’s appeal against his conviction will also continue to be heard then.

They are charged with links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara blamed for the coup bid. Gulen denies the accusations.

The journalists’ convictions — ridiculed by supporters — were based on a TV appearance on the eve of the failed coup where they allegedly sent “subliminal messages” calling for the overthrow of Erdogan’s government.

Their cases set off alarm bells over the freedom of press in Turkey under the two-year state of emergency imposed after the failed coup that has seen dozens of journalists arrested.

In a separate development, an Istanbul court also ordered the release of rights activist Celalettin Can who had been held since February.

“The courts must now turn their attention to the thousands of others who remain unfairly detained in Turkey,” said van Gulik of Amnesty, noting that the rights group’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic remains in jail after over a year behind bars.

According to P24, before Mehmet Altan’s release there were 182 journalists detained in Turkey, most of them jailed under the state of emergency.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)