Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano has penned an open letter to jailed Turkish writer Ahmet Altan, saying Turkish authorities' denial to release him “must concern us all.”
Saviano's letter titled “Dear Ahmet Altan, your magic is stronger than their walls” was published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Feb. 6.
“They took away your freedom. To freeze your words, they locked you up in a cell. They can’t even begin to imagine that a cell can at best emprison bodies, but has no power over words,” Saviano told Altan, who has been jailed since September 2016 over coup-related charges.
Saviano also addressed Boğaziçi University protests in his letter, saying he finds it “intolerable that a writer can be thrown into jail so easily, while the Turkish regime carries on as if nothing happened.”
“I’m writing to you right now because the entire academic world in Turkey and all the college students are rising up and demonstrating in favour of lay culture, free from political pressures. I’m writing to you right now because these students are being arrested, and denied their right to speak freely. And I’m writing at this moment because I find it intolerable that a writer can be thrown into jail so easily, while the Turkish regime carries on as if nothing happened,” he wrote.
The Italian writer said that he finds it “ridiculous” of the Turkish authorities to accuse Altan of knowing in advance about the coup and sending "subliminal" messages in support of it during an interview.
“The charge of sending subliminal messages, just because a few hours before the failed golpe of July 2016 you were a guest on TV with your brother Mehmet Altan, is simply ridiculous. How could it be endorsed by the government and law-courts, shouldn’t such institutions care about their credibility, not just at home, but abroad as well?” he wrote.
Saviano compared protesting Boğaziçi University students to Altan, saying: “More students were arrested (159 in total, 98 released a few hours later); they too, just like you, Ahmet, have responded with happiness. Their protests are full of music and dance. Nothing could be further from the gloomy halls of power, so freakish and dumb.”
“And while the foreign secretary brands them as 'deviants' and 'perverts', while the government threatens, jails, prosecutes and sanctions them, all of us here are simply watching what’s going on,” he wrote, referring to the Turkish government officials' targeting of LGBTI individuals with phrases of “deviants” and “perverts.”
Saviano finished his letter by saying: “One day soon, I promise, we’ll hug each other, because, as you say: 'I am a writer and you can’t find me either where I am or where I’m not. You can lock me up in jail, but you can’t keep me there. I do magic, I can walk through walls'."
Altan was arrested in September 2016 over his alleged links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, the group widely believed to have carried out the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt.
He was handed an aggravated prison sentence for "attempting to overthrow the government" on Feb. 16, 2018.
Following his appeal, the Court of Cassation on July 5, 2019 overruled the aggravated prison term that was handed on coup charges and ruled that Altan be sentenced for "intentionally aiding an armed terrorist organization," referring to the Gülen movement, which is officially called the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
The Istanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court then abided by the Court of Cassation ruling and sentenced Altan to 10 years and six months in prison for "aiding a terrorist organization without being a member of it" on Nov. 4, 2019. The court also ruled for his release on the condition of judicial control.
His freedom was short-lived. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed the ruling that set him free, which led to his rearrest on Nov. 13, 2019.
Altan took his case to the Constitutional Court on Nov. 21, 2019 after the appeals against his rearrest were dismissed, saying that he was rearrested despite the inexistence of the necessary conditions for imprisonment.
In his individual application, the prominent novelist also said that his right to freedom of expression, liberty and security were violated.
The top court, however, dismissed his application on Dec. 2, 2020 on the grounds that he is kept behind bars based on a "conviction" rather than an "accusation."
According to the Constitutional Court, Altan's claims that the heavy penal courts are not impartial and independent are "baseless."