Turkey frees jailed journalist after 'anti-Erdogan subliminal messages' conviction

Turkey frees jailed journalist after 'anti-Erdogan subliminal messages' conviction
Journalist Mehmet Altan has been freed after being jailed for almost two years.
2 min read
27 June, 2018
Mehmet Altan hugging his wife after his release [Getty]

Turkish journalist Mehmet Altan was freed on Wednesday after almost two years in jail in a case that intensified concerns about press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Altan, first arrested in September 2016 for alleged links to the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup, was released from the Silivri prison outside Istanbul following an earlier court ruling, the P24 press freedom group said in a statement. 

His conviction and life sentence have not been quashed and he remains subject to a travel ban and obligation to report to authorities regularly.

The constitutional court in January had ruled that Altan should be released on the grounds his rights had been violated but a lower criminal court ignored this.

"I am freed after 21 months, when I should never have been taken into custody," P24 quoted him as saying outside the jail where he was welcomed by friends and colleagues.

"Let my release be some hope on the way to law and democracy," he added.

Wednesday's ruling was made by an Istanbul regional court which heard his appeal and based its decision on the previous "binding" ruling of the constitutional court.

Altan, an economics professor and journalist, was convicted alongside other prominent suspects including his brother Ahmet, a writer and novelist, and veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak.

The Istanbul court ruled to keep Ahmet Altan and Ilicak in jail and adjourned the next session in the appeal hearing for September 21.

The journalists' convictions - ridiculed by supporters - were based on a TV appearance on the eve of the failed coup where they allegedly sent "subliminal messages" calling for the overthrow of Erdogan's government.

Their cases set off alarm bells over the freedom of press in Turkey under the two-year state of emergency imposed after the failed coup that has seen dozens of journalists arrested. 

Mehmet Altan's release comes three days after Erdogan won presidential and parliamentary elections with new enhanced powers as head of state.

Ahead of the elections, Erdogan had vowed to lift the state of emergency after his inauguration for the new term. But activists say they are awaiting action rather than words.