European court rules Turkey’s detention of top judge unlawful

Turkey’s detention of a former constitutional court judge in the wake of a failed coup has been declared unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The ruling handed down by the court on Tuesday held that the detention was unlawful and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECtHR ruled that Turkey violated “the right to liberty and security of” Alparslan Altan, a former member of the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Altan was detained, together with some 3,000 other judges and prosecutors on July 16, 2016, a day after a failed coup attempt in Turkey.

On 20 July 2016, a court ordered Altan’s pre-trial detention over links to the Gulen Movement, which the Turkish authorities consider to be “an armed terrorist organization”, led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara accuses him of masterminding the failed coup. No other country deems the Gulen movement to be a terror organization.


In August 2016, the AYM dismissed Altan from his post. Altan applied to the AYM on September 7, 2016, challenging the lawfulness of the order for his detention in two respects. Firstly, his immunity as a judge had not been lifted by the AYM, which it should have first done in terms of a special law linked to his status as a constitutional court judge.

Secondly, he argued that his detention had been ordered even though no evidence against him had been produced at the time his arrest was ordered.

The highest court, however, dismissed Altan’s complaints, finding his incarceration justified on January 11, 2018.

Four days later, a local court indicted Altan, with the prosecution demanding 11 years and three months’ imprisonment.

On March 6, 2019, the former judge was convicted by the 9th Criminal Chamber of the Turkish Supreme Court.

Being a binding prejudication precedent, the ECtHR’s ruling deems that there has been a violation of rights because of the unlawfulness of Altan’s initial pre-trial detention. The lack of reasonable suspicion, at the time of Altan’s initial pre-trial detention, that he had committed an offense was also deemed to be a violation of his rights.

It was a majority ruling if six judges to one.

The ruling is not related to Altan’s conviction, but his initial detention on July 16, 2016.

The ECtHR held Turkey was to pay Altan the sum of 10,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage, dismissing his claim in respect of pecuniary damage.

Altan is married with two children. His elder son, Eren, is a disabled child, severely affected with autism.

Following the failed coup attempt, thousands of judges and prosecutors have been arrested in Turkey, while more than 4,000 have been dismissed from their jobs.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, 152,000 public officers were sacked, while around 160,000 people were detained, as of March 2018, during an 18-month state of emergency in Turkey.

Among those detained, more than 50,000 have been imprisoned pending trial since July 2016. There are 77,355 people under judicial control, according to Ministry of Justice statistics revealed in January 2019.

Turkey ranks 109th out of 126 countries, according to 2019 Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project, which measures how the rule of law is experienced and perceived by the general public in 126 countries and jurisdictions worldwide.

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