Two suspects linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) brought their case to European Court of Human Rights, hoping to set a precedent for the release of the group's members jailed after its attempt to seize power in 2016. Yet, a Turkish judge in the court dissented with other judges in a case of rights violation and defended Turkey's right to prosecute those behind the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
European Court of Human Rights had ruled on March 20 that the rights of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, two men linked to FETÖ's media leg, were violated in two of the violation complaints by defendants although it dismissed the other eight complaints. Altan was sentenced to life imprisonment for a FETÖ-related case in February while Alpay was released with house arrest earlier in March.
Ergin Ergül, the Turkish judge in the six-judge chamber of the European court, said in his dissenting opinion that the court should consider the scale of threat posed by the coup attempt and what would happen if Turkey failed to foil the putsch bid. "The investigations and judicial proceedings and court judgments have shown that (FETÖ) is a complex, sui generis terrorist organization carrying out its activities under a cloak of legality. In this context, (its) media wing has played a significant role in legitimizing the actions that gave rise to this organization's despicable attempted military coup by manipulating public opinion. (Applicants) was placed in pre-trial detention in the context of an investigation into the organization's media wing," Ergül noted.
Altan, a journalist and writer, was arrested along with journalist brother Ahmet, for links to FETÖ when the footage of a TV program (broadcast by a TV station linked to FETÖ) where they openly made a pro-coup propaganda before the terrorist group's infiltrators in the military moved to seize power. Alpay was a columnist for Zaman, a now-defunct newspaper which acted as a mouthpiece for pro-FETÖ propaganda.
Ergül also said that Mehmet Altan failed to exhaust legal means in Turkey as he applied to the European Court of Human Rights before Turkey's Constitutional Court issued a verdict upon his application for rights violation. European court, in most cases, rules that the applicants should have their applications to the highest legal authority in their countries finalized before issuing rulings in such cases.
The terrorist group once wielded considerable clout in the media where it ran a major broadcaster. The group owned several TV stations, published newspapers and magazines that disseminated the group's propaganda and had several radio stations. Most were closed down as part of the crackdown on FETÖ and were handed to trustees as the legal process against the group's members got underway. The media was key for Fetullah Gülen, leader of the group, to spread his messages to followers. In the post-coup period, his followers sporadically released his videotaped speeches where he issued threats to Turkey, including implying the assassination of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gülen, who faces extradition from the United States, is already implicated in a string of criminal cases including those on the coup attempt carried out by his followers in the military and sham trials against his critics.
In messages intercepted by the security forces, FETÖ members comfort their jailed members by pledging to take their cases to international courts, under the disguise of violation of their rights. Before it moved to seize power, the group posed as a charity movement and counts on its pre-coup image to enlist the aid of Western countries against legal cases it faces in Turkey. Ankara has been critical of other countries openly harboring wanted suspects of FETÖ, including the military officers who took part in the coup bid. Authorities also lament the reluctance in the extradition of Gülen by the U.S.