Turkey sends journalist Altan back to jail a week after release


Istanbul (Reuters) – A Turkish court ordered prominent journalist and author Ahmet Altan back to jail on Wednesday, a week after he was released from prison following a retrial on coup-related charges.

Before his release last Monday, Altan had been in jail since his arrest in 2016 following an attempted coup which Ankara says was orchestrated by the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Rights groups condemned Altan’s re-arrest in a case which has also drawn criticism from Turkey’s Western allies. They are concerned by the scale of a post-coup crackdown against suspected Gulen supporters under President Tayyip Erdogan.

The court order to re-arrest Altan, seen by Reuters, cited a risk of flight, the gravity of his crimes and his lack of remorse among the reasons for the detention order.

“Law has been buried under concrete,” Altan’s lawyer Figen Calikusu wrote on Twitter. She told Reuters it was unlawful for the prosecutor to seek his re-arrest.

“The court (last week) ruled that a travel ban was sufficient. It is not permissible for another court to overturn the decision to his detriment,” Calikusu said, adding that she had filed an appeal.

Altan, 69, smiled and waved late on Tuesday as he was driven away by counter-terrorism police officers after being taken from his Istanbul home, videos and photos on Turkish media showed.

Altan, his brother and other journalists were previously sentenced to life in jail over links to Gulen’s network. Last week he was convicted again in a retrial, but released from jail given the time already served.

Altan was tried over comments he made on a television show a day before the coup attempt. He denies the charges.

Media Freedom Crisis

“I am appalled by this decision,” said Harlem Desir, media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“This is a terrible setback and can only deepen the media freedom crisis in the country. I call for the decision to be reversed.”

Amnesty International’s Europe Director Marie Struthers described the case as a “judicial farce, emblematic of a period where politically motivated show trials have become the norm”.

Under last week’s verdict, Altan was sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail. Turkey’s high court had overturned the previous life sentences against him in July.

“If you want to keep me in jail you can hold me as long as you like, prison does not scare me,” Altan said in his defence before last week’s verdict. “I would rather complete my life in prison than be scared of such a government.”

Turkey has jailed more than 77,000 people since the failed putsch, in which 250 people were killed when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters in a bid to seize power. Arrests of suspected Gulenists are still routine.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and his followers deny any involvement in the coup.

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