|NEWSPAPER CAMPAIGN RESULTS IN DAMNING JUDGMENT AGAINST TURKEY|
FIFTEENTH SUCCESSFUL JUDGMENT FOR KURDISH HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The unremitting campaign of murder, abduction, knife attacks and arson attacks against journalists and reporters on the newspaper Özgür Gündem and their offices in Turkey, leading to the closure of the newspaper, amounts to a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression, says European Court.
In what has been termed "the most serious freedom of expression case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)", the Turkish government was found today to have failed to comply with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights in the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) case of Özgür Gündem v Turkey. The Court found that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression), unequivocally stating that Turkey had failed in its positive obligation to protect freedom of expression.
Mark Muller, Chairman of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, said "This judgment reaffirms the fact that freedom of expression must form the basis of any democratic society. It is a small irony that just as Turkey has been found to be in breach of Article 10 for unlawful prosecutions brought under its Anti-Terror Law, the British government is intent upon enacting the Anti-Terror Bill which is so vague and potentially all inclusive as to also violate the letter and spirit of Article 10."
Kerim Yildiz, Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, said "Turkey's unwarranted interference with journalists and their newspapers has been roundly condemned. We now expect the Turkish state to urgently put in place long-called for political and legal reforms in order to ensure the full implementation of the findings in this judgment".
An orchestrated campaign, conducted between 1992 and 1994 against the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, led to its closure, and to the murder, imprisonment and disappearance of a string of journalists, correspondents and reporters associated with the newspaper.
Journalists, correspondents and reporters were either gunned down or abducted in the space of eighteen months, whilst news stands selling the paper were subjected to arson attacks, boys selling the newspaper were the subject of knife attacks, and the Istanbul office of the newspaper's successor Özgür Ülke was subject to a bomb attack and to police raids.
Protest letters sent to the authorities, including the Prime Minster and the Governor of the State of Emergency region in south east Turkey, during the height of the attacks, elicited no response. During one period of 68 days in 1993, 41 issues of the newspaper were ordered to be seized. There have been prosecutions in respect of 486 out of 580 editions of the newspaper. A search operation of the Özgür Gündem Istanbul office on 10 December 1993 also led to the arrest of 107 people, including the cook and the cleaner.
The Turkish government claim that Özgür Gündem acted as a propaganda tool for the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) was not substantiated before the Court. The Court found, rather, that even if true, this "does not provide a justification for failing to take steps effectively to investigate and, where necessary, provide protection against unlawful acts involving violence".
The Court found that the newspaper Özgür Gündem was forced to cease publication due to the campaign of attacks on journalists and others associated with the newspaper and due to the legal steps taken against the newspaper and its staff. The applicants also claim that the Turkish authorities were complicit in the orchestrated attack against the newspaper leading to its eventual closure.The Court found that the Turkish government failed to comply with their positive obligation to protect Özgür Gündem in the exercise of its freedom of expression. The Court also found that the search operation on 10 December 1993 was disproportionate and unjustified in the pursuit of any legitimate aim, and that no justification was provided for the seizure of the newspaper's archives, documentation and library.