Turkey frees prominent journalist Ahmet Altan after nearly five years in prison on charges of failed military coup, a day after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he had been unfairly detained .
Wednesday’s decision by the Turkish appeals court follows a visit to Turkey last week by European Union leaders who urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respect civil liberties in order to improve relations with the bloc.
Altan, 71, was jailed in September 2016, two months after an army faction tried to overthrow Erdogan. The insurgency was blamed on supporters of an Islamic cleric who lives in the United States, and Erdogan launched a crackdown on his opponents as a result, jailing tens of thousands of people.
The ECHR ruled on Tuesday that The initial detention of Altan violated his rights to liberty and freedom of expression because he lacked “reasonable suspicion” and ordered the government to pay him damages. He was indicted for sending “subliminal messages” to encourage the coup through his criticism of the government.
Altan, who is also a novelist, was later jailed for life, but was tried again and sentenced to more than a decade in prison for aiding terrorists. His lawyer, Veysel Ok, said the appeals court has now overturned that conviction and a lower court will try Altan again,
Another of his lawyers, Figen Calikusu, said the ECHR decision was binding on the lower court. “After the ECHR decision showed the absence of a crime, the roadmap is now for his acquittal,” she said.
Turkey has detained more journalists than any other nation, as well as dozens of dissidents, and has ignored ECHR judgments aiming to free Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and civil society leader Osman Kavala.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, met Erdogan in Turkey on April 6 and said that Turkey must respect the decisions of the ECHR, which are binding on Turkey, a signatory to the European convention of human rights.
Turkey is officially a candidate for EU membership, but membership negotiations are stalled by its poor relations with some members and an erosion of fundamental rights. In recent months, Erdogan has pledged political and legal reforms as he seeks to mend strained relations with the West and improve trade ties to help stabilize Turkey’s fragile economy.