There has been a positive development for Turkish writer Ahmet Altan. Altan’s sentence to life in prison was overturned in the Supreme Court of Appeals of 5 July 2019 due to a lack of sufficient and credible evidence, according to a statement on English PEN.
The prominent Turkish novelist, essayist, and journalist Ahmet Altan was arrested in 2016 along with his journalist brother Mehmet Altan for being linked to the Gülen movement by sending ‘subliminal messages’ on a TV show on which they participated in on 14 July, one day before the Turkish coup attempt. In February 2018, Ahmet Altan was sentenced to life in prison. In the same month, a court in Istanbul sentenced him to an additional five years and 11 months in prison on charges of producing propaganda for the banned PKK and insulting incumbent President Erdoğan. The conviction was largely based on an article published on the Haberdar news website where Altan, according to the convicting court, was found guilty of portraying violent acts of the PKK as innocent and insulted president Erdoğan.
While the successful appeals is a positive development, Altan still awaits release pending a decision by the Istanbul High Criminal Court according to Livres Hebdo. English PEN reports that the writer could still be charged with ‘aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member’.
Prominent Turkish writer Ahmet Altan and his brother, academic and columnist Mehmet Altan, were detained by police on 10 September 2016 for questioning on alleged coup-related charges that the brothers, according to the prosecutor’s office, “gave subliminal messages suggesting a military coup” on a TV programme that aired on 14 July 2016, a day before the coup attempt, reported Hurriyet Daily News on 10 September 2016.
The prosecutor said the brothers made remarks that “threatened” the Turkish government and president, and “announced” the coup, stating: “[they] could not have known about the coup attempt and announce it to shape public perception if they had not been a part of the terrorist organisation before.”
The channel that aired the show, Can Erzincan TV, has been shut down by Turkish authorities, and journalist and writer Nazli Ilicak, who was on the same talk show as the Altan brothers, was also arrested on terrorism charges on 29 July 2016, reported The Guardian on 11 September 2016.
Hurriyet Daily News reported that Ilicak’s testimony would be sought as part of the questioning of the Altan brothers.
Though civil servants, police and military personnel, politicians and journalists have been the largest groups caught in the aftermath of the coup attempt, artists have also been targeted in the wide-cast net of suppression.
On 16 August 2016, Turkish police arrested novelist Aslı Erdoğan after a Turkish court ordered the temporary closure of newspaper Özgür Gündem, which Erdoğan is on the board of.
On 3 August 2016, four actors – Sevinç Erbulak, Mahberi Mertoğlu, İrem Arslan and Arda Aydın – and two directors – Ragıp Yavuz and Kemal Kocatürk – from Istanbul City Theatre were suspended by municipality authorities as part of an investigation following the attempted coup.
On 7 August 2016, authorities banned the performance of a play by famed veteran actor Genco Erkal for “security reasons” after the coup attempt. However, following petitions, online reactions and a speech in Parliament by a member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the ban was lifted days later.
On 11 August 2016, pop star Sıla Gençoğlu had four upcoming concerts cancelled after she made comments about a democracy rally attended by millions in Istanbul that authorities and promoters deemed “mocked” the will of the people and their “honourable stance”.
Writers call for world leaders to take action
In response to the Altan brothers’ arrest, 217 international writers, including three Nobel laureates, as well as academics and intellectuals, have banded together to condemn the arrests and called upon world leaders to use their powers to stop the Turkish government’s crackdown on its people:
We the undersigned call upon democrats throughout the world, as well as those who care about the future of Turkey and the region in which it exerts a leading role, to protest the vendetta, which the government is waging against its brightest thinkers and writers who may not share their point of view.
Acclaimed Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk further said the current crackdown is being driven by “the most ferocious hatred” in a front-page opinion piece published a day after the arrests by Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
In Turkey, we are progressively putting behind bars all people who take the liberty of voicing even the slightest criticism of the government. Freedom of thought no longer exists. We are distancing ourselves at high speed from a state of law and heading towards a regime of terror.
» Read more on the crackdown after the attempted coup in Turkey in Freemuse’s recent article in the INSIGHT series:
Turkey: The coup still continues for the art scene
Photo: Ahmet Altan Facebook page
» Platform 24 – 14 September 2016:
The world outraged over Turkish writer’s detention
» The Japan Times – 12 September 2016:
Nobelist Pamuk: ‘Freedom of though no longer exists’ in Turkey
» The Guardian – 11 September 2016:
Turkey has detained a prominent novelist. We unite to say this vendetta must end
» The Guardian – 11 September 2016:
Brothers critical of Turkish government arrested after TV programme
» Deutsche Welle – 10 September 2016:
Prominent Turkish journalist, academic detained
» Hurriyet Daily News – 10 September 2016:
Journalist Ahmet Altan, academic Mehmet Alta detained
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» 14 September 2016: Turkey: The coup still continues for the art scene
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» 18 August 2016: Turkey: Writer arrested amidst crackdown after coup attempt
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» 8 April 2016: Turkey: Actress’ contract cancelled over interview comments