Turkish government criticizes top court for overstepping authority in journalists' ruling


The Turkish government on Friday criticized the Constitutional Court for overstepping its authority by ordering the release of two journalists previously arrested in probes targeting the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

The court had "gone beyond both its legal and constitutional authority," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Twitter.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on Friday that the case of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan would be decided by a local court, after the Constitutional Court had ruled they be released.

"Whether we like the Constitutional Court's ruling or not, the authority that will make the right call is the first instance court," Yıldırım told reporters.

The Ankara court ruled that the rights of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan had been violated. Both had been accused of being associated with terrorist groups after the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Bozdağ said on Friday that the ruling was a "bad and false repetition of the Can Dündar judgment," referring to a newspaper editor who was similarly ordered released in 2016. He subsequently left Turkey and is now living in Germany.

Alpay, a left-wing militant turned liberal active in press since early 1980s, was detained on July 31, 2016, along with other columnists of now-defunct Zaman daily, the main newspaper of FETÖ's once-sprawling media empire. In a court hearing in September, Alpay dismissed accusations that he was part of FETÖ and only wrote for the newspaper because there were no other job offers and he needed the money. He said that he had "no idea" that FETÖ, which he described as the Gülen Movement named after its leader Fetullah Gülen, was involved in anything illegal.

Meanwhile, Altan, a prominent professor who was detained along with his brother Ahmet Altan, the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf daily, was arrested on Sept. 22, 2016 for a speech at a TV show aired on Gülenist-linked Can Erzincan TV on July 14, 2016, a day before the July 15 coup attempt. In his speech on the TV show, Altan had implied that a coup was imminent.

Once approving the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) policies, liberal-leaning Altan brothers, sons of prominent left-wing journalist Çetin Altan, became fierce critics of the government in later years, often appearing in Gülenist TV channels.

They were detained as part of an investigation into the media leg of the terror group, whose wrongdoings were at the center of a string of criminal inquiries since 2013. The elder brother Ahmet Altan was the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Taraf daily. The now-defunct Taraf was known as a mouthpiece for Gülenists both during the time of the notorious sham trials perpetrated by infiltrators of the terror group in judiciary and police and after the state launched a crackdown on Gülenists in 2013. Ahmet Altan remains under arrest.

Prosecutors in Istanbul had previously asked for aggravated life sentences for the Altan brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak, a journalist, for serving as the media arm of FETÖ. They said Ilıcak and the Altan brothers knew of the coup attempt and spread propaganda to pave the way for it by FETÖ members in the military.

The terrorist group faces a new barrage of trials after the July 15 coup attempt, its latest bid to seize power through its infiltrators. The group is accused of running media outlets to vindicate its actions and orchestrating defamation campaigns against the group's critics. FETÖ once wielded considerable clout in the media where it ran TV stations and newspapers that spread the group's propaganda. Most were closed down as part of the crackdown on FETÖ and were handed to trustees as the legal processes against the group's members commenced.

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