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12.10.2017

Pro-Kurdish Turkish publisher wins damages from Europe’s top court

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that an Istanbul publisher was wrongfully convicted of disseminating propaganda through one editorial in favour of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and several international organisations.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg (photo: Nicoleon, Cour européenne des droits de l'homme, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Second Section of the top European human rights court said in a judgement published on 11th October that the opinion piece in question was sympathetic to the intellectual roots of the PKK, but it did not encourage violence or hatred.

Mr. Fatih Taş owns a publishing house in Istanbul which publishes a periodical titled "Vesta". In 2004, the periodical published an opinion article about Kurdish intellectuals, praising PKK’s intellectual side in comparison to its other legacies, saying it made possible “the beginning of a permanent and stable political enlightenment process” among the Kurds.

Nearly four years later, in 2008, Mr. Taş was convicted by the Istanbul Assize Court and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment and a monetary fine for disseminating propaganda in favour of the PKK. The imprisonment sanction was suspended for good behaviour during the trial on condition that the publisher does not commit “an intentional offence” during the next five years. The court upheld the decision after a complaint from Mr. Taş later that year.

The ECtHR judgement of 11th October ruled that the domestic conviction of the publisher amounted to an interference with his right to exercise freedom of expression. According to the European court the conviction of the publisher “entailed real and effective restraint and had a deterrent effect on his very profession” - especially since he faced a penalty  that lasted for five years.

It further argued that the interference was not justified through sufficient reasons. “The Court [...] observes that the author (of the article) had particularly critical views on Kurdish intellectuals and sympathy towards the intellectual background of the PKK and its leader”, the judgement said. “However, in the Court’s view, the article as a whole cannot be construed as encouraging violence, armed resistance or an uprising or being capable of inciting to violence by instilling a deep-seated and irrational hatred against identifiable persons, which are essential elements to be taken into account”.

Mr. Fatih Taş was awarded 4,430 Euros for non-pecuniary damages and costs to be compensated from Turkey.

The European Court of Human Rights on mentioned on 11th Octoberits recent judgements on interventions in Turkey against the freedom of expression - i.e. Sükran Aydın and Others (2013) and Gülcü (2016), on cases when such interventions amounted to restraint and had deterrent effect in the profession - Erdoğdu (2000-VI), Tambaş (2006), and in cases when interventions were unnecessary in a democratic society - Sürek (1999), Erdoğdu (2000‑VI), Demirel and Ateş (2008).

Case of Fatih Taş v Turkey, application no. 6813/09. 10 October 2017

Turkey has recently seen increased restriction of freedom of expression against media and civil society. The reader can follow the latest ECPMF entry on the context here.





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