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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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Turkey found in Violation of Rights to Free Expression and Fair Trial at ECtHR

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday found Turkey in violation of Articles 6 and 10 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) in the KHRP-assisted case of Yurdatapan v Turkey.

On 23 July 1999 Mr Yurdatapan, an opponent of Turkey’s harsh laws relating to conscription, distributed leaflets entitled “Freedom of Thought - No. 38” in front of the Istanbul State Security Court.  These leaflets contained statements made by Osman Murat Ülke, a conscientious objector, opposing conscription. Mr Ülke was himself prosecuted for making these statements in 1997 and a similar leaflet entitled “Freedom of Thought – No 9” containing his statements had previously been banned by the Turkish general Staff Military Court. Mr Yurdatapan was subsequently tried by a military court for seeking to dissuade persons from serving in the military, sentenced to two months imprisonment and a fine.

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday ruled that the sentence violated Yurdatapan’s right to an impartial tribunal (Article 6 ECHR), since he was tried by a military court.  It further ruled that his right to free expression (Article 10 ECHR) had also been violated.  The Court pointed out that the leaflets distributed by Yurdatapan did not contain any incitement to violence or hate.  It found therefore that “the applicant's conviction and sentence were disproportionate … [and] not necessary in a democratic society”.

The Court’s findings are the latest in a series of cases relating to conscientious objectors in Turkey.  Indeed the circumstances of this case are nearly identical to the recent KHRP-assisted case of Düzgören v Turkey. In that case the ECHR found that the fining and imprisonment of journalist Koray Düzgören for distributing similar leaflets outside Ankara State Security Court violated articles 6 and 10 of the Convention.

Osman Murat Ülke, the conscientious objector mentioned above, took a case to the European Court in 1997 protesting the  continual imprisonment  and harassment he suffered for burning military call-up papers, refusing to wear a military uniform, and multiple counts of desertion. In 2006 the Court found Turkey guilty of inhuman and degrading treatment due to the continual imprisonment and prosecution of Ülke on the same charges. Ülke‘s treatment, and the treatment of Yurdatapan and Düzgören for reproducing his statements on conscientious objection, reflect an ongoing gap in Turkish legislation regarding conscientious objectors. As the Court put it in that case: “the legal framework was evidently not sufficient to provide an appropriate means of dealing with situations arising from the refusal to perform military service on account of one’s beliefs. Because of the unsuitable nature of the general legislation applied to his situation the applicant had run, and still ran, the risk of an interminable series of prosecutions and criminal convictions”.

On learning of yesterday’s judgment KHRP Executive Director Kerim Yildiz stated: “Regardless of a state’s or a public’s opinion on conscientious objectors, they, just as any other citizen, deserve to live free from harassment and intimidation and deserve their rights to fair trial and impartial judiciary. The basic human rights of conscientious objectors in Turkey continue to be violated, as does the right to free expression of those who stand up for them. Provision must be made in Turkish law to allow for conscientious objection on religious or personal grounds. An end must be put to the current equation of conscientious objection with “a threat to the integrity of the state”, which has led to the hounding of objectors like Ülke, and the prosecution of their supporters. Yesterday’s judgment by the Court is to be welcomed as a further step in underlining the urgent need for reform on this matter.”