A Turkish court on Wednesday released journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan after more than four years in prison on charges of involvement in a failed 2016 coup attempt that he has always denied.
The court of cassation came a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanded the 71-year-old’s freedom in a verdict accusing Turkey of violating his civil rights.
“I do not know how I got out. I was (in prison) and suddenly I was told tonight that I would be released,” Altan told AFP in front of his home in Istanbul.
“I just saw my children. I will now spend some time with them,” he said.
The award-winning novelist and newspaper editor was jailed after writing politically sensitive articles critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and in support of Kurdish rights.
Altan was arrested during sweeping purges following the coup attempt and accused of supporting the uprising by “spreading subliminal messages to the public”.
He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison for trying to overthrow the government – a decision later overturned by Turkey’s Supreme Court.
But the case was re-examined and he was sentenced to ten years and six months for “deliberately supporting a terrorist organization” involved in the coup.
“Very pleased to hear Turkey’s Cassation Court has just ordered the release of novelist Ahmet Altan after more than 4.5 years in prison,” tweeted Turkish Parliamentary Rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor.
“Will be even happier after seeing him enjoy his freedom and all accusations have been dropped. Hopefully all other (ECHR) decisions will be applied as well.”
Very happy to hear #Turkey’s Cassation Court has just ordered the novelist #AhmetAltan to be released after more than 4.5 years in prison! Will be even happier after seeing him fully enjoy his freedom and all accusations dropped. Hope all other @ ECHR_CEDH decisions will be applied as well.
– Nacho Sánchez Amor (@NachoSAmor) April 14, 2021
The court of cassation came when Erdogan told of a charm offensive aimed at repairing broken ties with the European Union and building a new report with the US government by President Joe Biden.
EU leaders highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record at a summit in Ankara last week.
Biden’s White House has also made human rights a much bigger issue in US-Turkey relations than it had been in the previous administration of Donald Trump.
Turkish officials claim that the courts are independent and not governed by politics or Erdogan’s keys.
But critics accuse Erdogan of piling them up with supporters after firing or imprisoning tens of thousands of people who held various government jobs.
Western observers have thus seen the fall of Altan and some other known prisoners as signs of Turkey’s diplomatic intentions and future political course.
Perhaps the most famous case involves civil society leader Osman Kavala – detained without jail for almost four years and re-arrested after being cleared of all charges in 2019.
The terrace was also briefly released and cleared of all charges before he was immediately reassigned in 2019.
The Court of Cassation’s ruling on Wednesday overturned its conviction in the 2019 case related to allegations of “helping a terrorist organization”.
He had turned to the ECHR for help in 2017 after calling the accusations against him “grotesque”.
The Strasbourg-based rights court found on Tuesday “no evidence that the applicant’s documents had been part of a plan to overthrow the government”.
It ordered Turkey to release him immediately and pay him 16,000 euros ($ 19,000) in damages for violating his right to freedom of expression.
“Deprivation of liberty, in particular continued detention, must be based on reasonable suspicion,” the European Court said.
It “found that the applicant’s criticism of the president’s political stance could not be seen as an indication that he had prior knowledge of the coup attempt,” it added.