The highest court on human rights in Europe has instructed Turkey to compensate the owner of a shut Kurdish daily as it violated freedom of expression.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found criminal proceedings against the owner of a shut-down Kurdish newspaper “systematically opened,” ordering Turkey to compensate.
The ECHR ordered Turkey on Tuesday to compensate Ali Gurbuz, owner of pro-Kurdish newspaper Ulkede Ozgur Gundem, shut down in 2016, after finding criminal charges against the publisher had been “systematically opened,” regardless of content.
“The Court held that Turkey was to pay Mr. Gurbuz 3,500 Euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage,” the court said in a written press release issued on Tuesday.
The case concerned seven sets of criminal charges brought against Gurbuz for publishing, in the daily, statements by the leaders of organizations characterized as a terrorist under Turkish law.
The ECHR found actual content of the articles had in fact contained insignificant messages such as Christmas wishes which did not call for any violence, armed resistance or uprising, and did not constitute hate speech, that being an essential factor to be considered.
“Enforcement measures automatically taken against media professionals, without considering their intentions or the public’s right to be informed of other views on a conflict situation, could not be reconciled with the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas,” the ECHR’s press release further said.
The court also noted the automatic application of Law no. 3713 on Counter-Terrorism to any statement emanating from a terrorist organization, regardless of the actual content, was capable of having a chilling effect on freedom of expression and public debate.
The definitions of “propaganda” and “terrorism” included in this law are so broad as to cover the mere publication of views critical of the government, or calling for political, legal, social or economic reform.
This broad provision is regularly abused by the governing AK Party (AKP) government to target journalists, activists, academics and others criticizing its actions or expressing dissenting views.
“Even though the applicant had ultimately been acquitted, the proceedings had been prolonged for lengthy periods during which the fear of being convicted had inevitably put pressure on Mr. Gurbuz, making him, as a media professional, apply some self-censorship.
Moreover, having regard to the number of prosecutions and the length of the proceedings, they could be regarded as a form of harassment such as to intimidate the newspaper proprietor and discourage him from publishing articles on questions in the general interest,” ECHR emphasized in the press release.
Kemal Kilic, Sanliurfa correspondent of the daily was founded in 1992, was shot and killed a year after. In a 2000 decision, the ECHR held Turkey responsible for failing to protect his life.
In 1994, three bombs hit the daily’s printing facilities and Istanbul and Ankara offices.
Focusing on the conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and Turkish security forces in the country’s mainly Kurdish Southeast, the daily has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of its correspondents over the years.
PKK is an armed militant group outlawed by the US, Turkey and the European Union. It has waged insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades.
After an attempted coup in July 2016, a court ordered the paper to be temporarily closed and some 20 reporters and editors taken into custody, including columnist Aslı Erdoğan and editor-in-chief Zana Kaya, amid a vast purge of the state’s perceived enemies.
The daily’s former news editor Reyhan Çapan was detained last May and remains in jail, facing 169 charges that include insulting the president and being a member of a terrorist organisation.