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Swedish journalists call on Erdoğan to release jailed author Ahmet Altan

Turkish journalist and writer Ahmet Altan (C) hugs his friends and relatives after being released on November 4, 2019. AFP

Sixteen journalists in Sweden including the heads of prominent journalism organizations have called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to take action for the release from prison of Turkish author and journalist Ahmet Altan.

The journalists released a joint declaration published in three major Swedish newspapers on the occasion of the publication in Swedish of a book written by Altan while in prison.

Altan was arrested shortly after a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. He was initially sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2018 for alleged links to Gülen movement, a faith-based group that is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup.

The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the lower court that handed down life sentences to Altan and a group of other journalists who stood trial with him. Altan was a given prison sentence of 10 years, six months in a retrial on charges of aiding a terrorist organization, in early November 2019. He spent a total of 1,138 days in prison until his release on Nov. 4, 2019. He was re-arrested one week later and is still behind bars.

In the declaration the journalists talked about how Erdoğan had consolidated the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches in his hands following the failed coup, which they said led to serious consequences for all the people of Turkey.

The journalists said Altan was jailed on trumped-up coup charges and that no evidence was presented against him proving the charges. They said they have concerns about his life due to the coronavirus pandemic because of the reports about widespread coronavirus cases in Silivri Prison, where Altan is jailed, and thus called on Erdoğan to ensure his release. The journalists said government opponents may be jailed on nonsense charges but that their words and remarks can never be jailed.

Among the signatories of the declaration are Kristina Ahlinder, CEO of the Swedish Publishers Association, journalist Robert Aschberg, author Kurdo Baksi, head of PEN Sweden Jesper Bengtsson and Erik Halkjaeri, president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Sweden.

In the meantime, Swedish radio has selected Altan’s book as the “book of the month” and excerpts from the book will be read on air every day. The book, titled, “I Will Never See the World Again,” was written by Altan in jail after he was handed down the life sentence. It has been translated into many languages and was named one of the 20 best books of 2019 by Amazon in the US. It was the only translated book in the list.

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