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European Rights Court Faults Turkey in Convictions for Online Posts

Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression in convicting two individuals over their social media posts, one in support of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and the other describing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a “filthy thief”, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.

Baran Burukan was given a prison sentence of just over a year in 2018 after he shared content that contained the words, ‘Long live the Kurdistan resistance’ and ‘Long live Abdullah Ocalan’. Arrested in 1999 and convicted of terrorism, Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, is serving a life sentence.

The second applicant to the Strasbourg court, Ilknur Birol, was given a sentence of 10 months in 2019 for a 2015 tweet in which she wrote: “Tayyip Erdogan filthy thief”. In both cases, the courts suspended the judgment, a measure that requires the consent of the defendant before their guilt is decided.

After their appeals were rejected by Turkish courts, including the Constitutional Court, Birol and Burukan turned to the ECHR.

In its own ruling, the ECHR noted that in a later case, from mid-2022, the Turkish Constitutional Court found fault with the practice of suspending judgment, saying such decisions “were not based on appropriate and sufficient reasons, that the courts failed to give due consideration to the defendants’ arguments in their defence and rejected requests for the gathering and examination of evidence on irrelevant grounds, and that those concerned had neither the help of a defence lawyer or the necessary time and facilities to prepare their defence adequately”.

Subsequent appeals in such cases were ineffective given that the courts often relied on “insufficient, formulaic reasoning while only conducting a merely formal examination, on the basis of the case file, without weighing up the interests at stake”, the ECHR cited the Constitutional Court as ruling. It also said that the practice of asking a defendant to consent to a suspended judgment at the very outset – before his or her guilt had been decided – “was likely to exert pressure on him or her and to give rise to a perception of his or her guilt in the judge’s mind, without being counterbalanced by any fair trial safeguards”.

The ECHR said it saw “no reason to find otherwise” and described the problem as systemic.

“The Court held that, in view of their potentially chilling effect, the criminal convictions, together with the decisions to suspend the judgments (subject to probation periods of three and five years respectively) constituted an interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression,” it said, and ordered Turkey to pay each applicant 2,600 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

Over the past several years, journalists, academics, politicians, and private individuals have been taken to court over their social media posts since the adoption of draconian laws and regulations under Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule.

In 2021, an investigation by independent media outlet Gazete Duvar found that more than 128,000 investigations were launched between 2014 and 2019 concerning alleged insults against Erdogan, resulting in more than 27,000 criminal cases launched by prosecutors.

Source : Balkan Insight