The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled for the release of imprisoned journalist Şahin Alpay March 16. The court, however, placed Alpay under house arrest and issued a travel ban pending the outcome of his trial. The release decision comes on the heels of a Constitutional Court judgment earlier.
In a decision dated March 15 bur communicated to the parties on March 16, Turkey’s top court ruled for a second time that Alpay’s personal rights were violated by his detention and expressly ordered his release. The 74 year-old former daily Zaman columnist who faces three aggravated life sentences on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, the Parliament and the constitutional order, has spent 594 days in pre-trial detention.
The same 13th High Criminal Court had refused to apply the Constitutional Court’s January 11 ruling on Alpay, arguing that it amounted to an “usurpation of the Constitıutional Court’s authority”, and ordered the continuation of Alpay’s detention. A similar ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court on the same day for economy professor and columnist Mehmet Altan was not implemented by another lower court, prompting concerns on judicial independence in Turkey.
The Constitutional Court’s second decision on Alpay’s case came ahead of scheduled rulings by the European Court of Human Rights on Alpay’s and Altan’s cases, to be made public on March 20.
In its judgment over a second application filed over the refusal by courts to order Alpay’s release, the Constitutional Court said March 16 that the failure to implement its previous ruling was a violation of Alpay’s rights to personal liberty and security as per the Article 19 of the Constitution and the Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Constitutional Court rulings are final and binding, the top court said. Lower courts have a constitutional obligation to implement them, it added.
The next hearing of the ongoing trial against Şahin Alpay and other 29 suspects will be heard on April 5. All suspects face three aggravated life sentences on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, the Parliament and the constitutional order. Alpay and others also face an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization.”