Turkey government fumes over court ruling on jailed journalists
ANKARA - Turkey's deputy prime minister on Friday slammed as "wrong" a ruling by the Constitutional Court that two veteran writers arrested in the wake of the failed coup should walk free as their rights had been violated.
Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan had been accused -- in separate cases -- of links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says masterminded the failed 2016 coup attempt. Gulen denies the charges.
The journalists are facing life sentences on accusations of links to terrorist groups and attempting to overthrow the government and have spent more than a year in jail.
They argued that their arrests and pre-trial detention were illegal and had violated their rights. According to Turkish media, eleven of the court’s 17 judges ruled in their favour while six ruled against.
Rights campaigners hoped the Constitutional court ruling could set a major legal precedent and help around 150 other journalists arrested in the crackdown.
Turkey’s judiciary has been overhauled by the government in the wake of the failed coup. Over 4,000 judges and prosecutors accused of having links to the Gulen movement have been removed from their jobs, including two members of the Constitutional Court.
After two Istanbul criminal courts late Thursday defied the ruling and ordered that both writers should for now remain behind bars, hope turned to dismay.
“Decisions by the constitutional court are binding for everyone,” the journalists' lawyer Veysel Ok wrote on Twitter. “The decision is unconstitutional.”
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir said he was "deeply concerned" by the Istanbul courts' decision. "Journalists must be freed immediately."
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, however, accused the Constitutional Court of exceeding its powers by acting as a top court of appeal. Turkey has its own Court of Cassation, known as the Yargitay.
"With this decision the Constitutional Court has crossed over its legislative and constitutional limits," Bozdag wrote on Twitter. "This court should not act as an appeals court."
He described the decision as "bad and wrong", saying it was reminiscent of the same court's ruling in February 2016 to order the release from jail of the former editor of the Cumhuriyet daily Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had at the time fumed over that decision, saying he had "no respect for it".
The Constitutional Court, Turkey's top court, is one of the very few public institutions in Turkey not controlled by Erdogan who enjoys the support of armed forces, parliament and government.
Most of its 17 members were appointed during the rule of Erdogan's predecessor Abdullah Gul or the previous president Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
"Now we know why they weren't released last night," commented Emma Sinclair Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch, on Twitter after Bozdag's remarks.
The Istanbul courts said that the men could not be released as Constitutional Court had not formally communicated its rationale. But the top court hit back with a rare message on Twitter, saying its full ruling could be read by anyone on the internet.
Alpay, 73, is a political scientist who wrote a column for the now closed staunchly pro-Gulen Zaman newspaper.
Mehmet Altan, 64, has written books on Turkish politics. His brother Ahmet, a novelist and journalist for some of Turkey's leading dailies, is also being held in the same case.