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Ahmet Hüsrev Altan v. Turkey, No. 13252/17, ECtHR (Second Section), 13 April 2021


Arrest and pre-trial detention of a journalist accused of alleged links to a terrorist organisation and involvement in the attempted military coup of 15 July 2016 in Turkey.

Normative references

Art. 5 ECHR
Art. 10 ECHR


1. Even in the framework of a state of emergency, the fundamental principle of the rule of law must prevail. Accordingly, a general order restricting access to investigation files cannot be regarded as an appropriate response to the state of emergency, and such an interpretation would negate the safeguards provided by article 5 of the Convention.

2. Freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of their political leaders. In particular, it gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the preoccupations of public opinion. It thus enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the very core of the concept of a democratic society.

3. There is little scope under article 10 ECHR for restrictions on political speech or on debate concerning questions of public interest. Moreover, the limits of permissible criticism are wider with regard to the Government than in relation to a private citizen, or even a politician. In a democratic system, the actions or omissions of the Government must be subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities but also of the press and public opinion.

4. The dominant position which the Government occupies makes it necessary for it to display restraint in resorting to criminal proceedings, particularly where other means are available for replying to the unjustified attacks and criticisms of its adversaries or the media.

5. Freedom of political debate also includes the free expression by prohibited organisations of their views, provided that these do not contain public incitement to commit terrorist offences, or condone the use of violence. The public has the right to be informed of the different ways of viewing a situation of conflict or tension. In that regard the authorities must, whatever their reservations, allow all parties to express their point of view.
(In the present case, concerning the arrest and pre-trial detention of a well-known Turkish journalist following the attempted military coup of July 2016, the European Court held that that there had been a violation of articles 5 and 10 ECHR by the domestic authorities).