Journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, who one week ago was released from a Turkish prison after three years' detention, has been rearrested. Human rights organisations have expressed dismay at the decision, saying his rearrest so soon after tasting freedom is tantamount to "psychological torture".
Altan was first arrested in 2016 on the basis of alleged links to the failed coup of that summer, which he has consistently denied. After being convicted of "helping a terrorist group" in 2018, he and Nazli Ilicak, another accused veteran journalist, were given life sentences. However both were released under supervision on 4th November 2019 for time already served; both writers had been in pre-trial detention for over three years.
A week on from their release, after objections were raised by the office of the President and the Turkish Parliament, the chief public prosecutor appealed against the decision to release Altan and his rearrest was ordered on grounds that he posed a flight risk, even though he is already subject to a travel ban.
On the heels of celebration at Altan's release, including from publishers, human rights organisations have been swift to condemn his rearrest one week on.
"English PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately release acclaimed journalist and author Ahmet Altan and drop all remaining charges against him," commented Daniel Gorman, director of English PEN.
"This outrageous move, coming just one week after his release, is a direct attack on freedom of expression. The ongoing persecution of Altan is symptomatic of the targeting of free press in Turkey, the world’s biggest jailer of journalists."
Thomas Hughes, executive director at freedom of speech organisation Article 19, said: “Re-arresting him just a week after his release amounts to psychological torture. Refusing to tell his lawyer whether or not he would be arrested added insult to injury.
“The whole situation is horribly reminiscent of his release and re-arrest in September 2016. Just as then, Altan has criticised the Turkish authorities following his release and they appear to be determined to punish him for this.”
He added: “The terrorism charges against Altan have always been politically motivated and the entire case lacks even a shred of credible evidence. The Turkish authorities must immediately cease this cruel judicial harassment of Altan.”
Schona Jolly QC, chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales, who has been following the trial, said: “Re-arresting him now, following his public criticism of the Turkish authorities upon his release, has all the appearance of a further abuse of power, by way of politically-motivated and/or judicial harassment.
“In the wider context of the mass arrest and prosecution of journalists, civil society and political opponents – cases which BHRC has been observing – this step now appears to be part of a broader attempt to stifle and silence critical opposition and free expression in Turkey’s democracy, by using and abusing the legal process.”
Karin Karlekar, PEN America's director of Free Expression at Risk Programs, added: "The re-arrest of Ahmet Altan just days after his release is a disgrace and a horror. A writer, a journalist, and an academic, Ahmet should never have been imprisoned to begin with; he has committed no crime. His release last week after more than three years in detention was a cause for hopeful celebration, but today we are faced again with the cruelty of a justice system that no longer upholds the rule of law. PEN America condemns this action and calls once again for Ahmet's immediate release."