Turkey says local court to evaluate ruling on jailed journalists

Published 12/01/2018 in World

Turkey says local court to evaluate ruling on jailed journalists

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey on Friday said the case of two journalists held for more than a year over alleged ties to a failed coup would be decided by a local court, after the Constitutional Court ruled they be freed, a turnaround likely to deepen concerns for press freedom.

The Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest, on Thursday ruled in favor of freeing the two journalists, Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, on the grounds that their rights had been violated while in custody. Hours later, penal courts decided to keep them in detention.

The reversal by the lower court may stir further worries about media freedom and judicial independence in Turkey in the aftermath of a widespread crackdown that followed the July 2016 failed coup.

Authorities have shut about 130 media outlets since the coup. The Turkish Journalists’ Association says about 160 journalists are in jail, most held since the putsch.

“Whether we like the Constitutional Court’s ruling or not, the authority that will make the right call is the first instance court,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, referring to the local court.

“Whichever court it is that is making the decision, our expectation from them is to not make decisions that will hinder the battle against FETO,” he said, using the government’s term for the network of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for orchestrating the coup.

Earlier on Friday Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the court had overstepped its limit.

“When ruling on individual applications, the Constitutional Court… cannot act like a super appeals court and cannot make rulings like such courts,” Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

“The Constitutional Court has overstepped the limit set out in the constitution and the laws,” he said.

Altan and Alpay were accused of links to terrorist groups and attempting to overthrow the government and were among more than 50,000 people remanded in custody after the failed putsch. They deny the charges.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday warned that Europe and Turkey would see no progress in their relations as long as Turkey holds journalists in prison.

Meanwhile, Turkey reinstated more than 1,800 civil servants purged after the failed coup, determining they had no links to Gulen’s network, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Prosecutors last year said they would review legal cases against more than 11,000 people accused of using the ByLock messaging app, finding that some suspects had unintentionally used it after being linked to it from another app.

Turkey outlawed ByLock after the attempted putsch, saying followers of Gulen used it to communicate on the night of July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and warplanes to attack parliament, killing more than 240 people.

Gulen has denied the charges and condemned the coup.

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