Altan - Trial for Insulting the President

Journalist and writer Ahmet Altan published an article titled “Yeni Ergenekon” (“New Ergenekon”) on May 8, 2016 on the website P24. In his article, Altan stated, “the government was caught in the act of theft and carried out a ‘judicial coup’.”

Altan used the following statements in his article:

“Erdoğan explicitly stated that he will not abide by the constitution and started to rush towards an illegal dictatorship. (…) And if you cannot run the country but want to become a dictator, your only remaining choice will be guns.”

Upon a complaint by President Erdoğan, an investigation was launched against Ahmet Altan on June 13, 2016. It was claimed that Altan had committed the crime of “insulting the President” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 299. On November 22, 2016, permission was received from the Ministry of Justice to file a lawsuit for this offense.

In his statement to the prosecutor, Ahmet Altan rejected the charge of “insulting the President.” He stated that it is not forbidden to criticize the government, but that President Tayyip Erdoğan’s lawyer tries to present it as an insult.

Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Press Crimes Investigation Bureau drafted the indictment about Altan on January 9, 2017. It was claimed that Altan had written, “Tayyip Erdoğan creates social conflict and chaos due to his political greed,” and “Erdoğan builds SS units to commit massacres under the pretext of war in the Southeastern Anatolia Region.” It was also claimed that Altan accused Erdoğan of arms smuggling in his article.

The indictment also offered an assessment of European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, which concerns freedom of thought and expression. The prosecutor indicated that this article of the convention stipulates “freedom of thought and expression covers not only those ideas that are appreciated and accepted, but also those ideas which are deemed offensive, shocking and disturbing.” The indictment went on to state “Although it is emphasized that (…) this allows for diversity of opinion, and tolerance, which are sine qua non in a democratic society,” and then claimed that Ahmet Altan should be sentenced for his article.

The Istanbul 30th Criminal Court of First Instance accepted the indictment against Ahmet Altan. The first hearing of the trial was held on May 16, 2017. Ahmet Altan was in Silivri Prison pending trial for “FETÖ Media Main Trial”, and so he was connected to the court via the video-conferencing system dubbed Audio and Visual Information System (SEGBİS).

At the first hearing, Altan did not request time to prepare his defense, and said he would not use his right to remain silence. Altan criticized the prosecutor’s citation of the aforementioned article of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of thought and expression, followed by the phrase “although.” Altan said, “The prosecutor does not have the right to write in this way; by using the expression ‘although’ the prosecutor positions himself above the constitution and commits a crime.” Altan rejected a possible deferment of the announcement of the verdict, and instead requested to be acquitted. The judge, gave Ahmet Altan’s lawyers Veysel Ok and Sinil Nuhoğlu additional time to draft a written defense and present evidence.

The trial was adjourned until the final hearing for the drafting of written defense and presentation of evidence for the case. Meanwhile, President Tayyip Erdoğan who had filed a complaint against Altan demanded to participate in the proceedings and this demand was accepted.

At the seventh hearing of the trial held on March 19, 2019, the verdict about Altan was announced. Judge, sentenced Altan to 11 months and 20 days in prison, reducing the normal prison term due to his good conduct. The sentence was converted to a judicial fine of 7,000 TL.

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