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08.02.2018

Turkish newspaper wrongly censored for publishing names of terrorism investigators

By Emil Weber

The temporary closure of the Turkish newspaper Yeni Evrensel for publishing the names of two terrorism investigators amounted to a violation of freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 16 January 2018.

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

In early 2000, the newspaper had published an article concerning the death of a journalist after he was beaten by policemen. It mentioned, inter alia, the names of the then director of the Istanbul Security Directorate and the deputy director. In the article it was said that "people considered them guilty" of the death of journalist Metin Göktepe in 1996 while in police arrest.

In the same year, the Istanbul State Security Court convicted the newspaper owner Mr. Fevzi Saygılı and the editor-in-chief Mr. Mr Ali Karataş for "disclosing the identities of public officials who are involved in the fight against terrorism, thereby [making] such persons targets for terrorist organisations". They were charged with a fine of 1206 euros, and the court ordered the "temporary closure" of the newspaper for seven days. Later, the Court of Cassation upheld the ruling.

5.000 euros for non-pecuniary damages

However, the ECtHR ruled that the sanction amounted to a violation of freedom of expression according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It ordered the Turkish administration to pay Mr. Saygılı and Mr. Karataş a compensation of 5.000 euros for non-pecuniary damages.

According to the court, there was no indication that the domestic justice considered the article published by the newspaper from the perspective of Article 10. It just focused on the impugned remarks rather than the full context of the article.

"The State Security Court in particular did not consider whether the [investigators’] names and roles in fighting terrorism were already in the public domain and whether they were in any actual danger as a result of the disclosure", the judgement read. "[They] had already been in the public domain since at least 19 July 1996, the date on which [a] Parliamentary Inquiry Commission’s report of the murder of Metin Göktepe had been published".

Disproportionate penalties 

According to the top European human right’s court, domestic justice "did not seek to explain or clarify in which way the public officials were made targets for terrorist organisations" by the article.

The court considered the penalties involved disproportionate. "Apart from the fine imposed on the applicants the first-instance court also ordered the temporary closure of the newspaper for a period of seven days, which amounted to veiled censorship and hindered their professional activities".

Case of Saygılı and Karataş v. Turkey, application no. 6875/05. 16 January 2018.


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