ECHR: Ürper and Others v. Turkey

ECHR: Ürper and Others v. Turkey

065 – 26.01.2010

Press release issued by the Registrar

Chamber judgments

Ürper and Others v. Turkey (applications no. 55036/07, 55564/07, 1228/08, 1478/08, 4086/08, 6302/08 and 7200/08)

Özer v. Turkey (no. 2) (application no. 871/08)

VIOLATIONS OF RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

In each case: violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression)
of the European Convention on Human Rights

Principal facts

The applicants are 20 Turkish nationals, who are or were journalists, editors, senior executives or proprietors of newspapers. From 2001 in one case, and 2007 in the other, they had criminal proceedings brought against them (personally or through their newspapers) on account of certain of their publications.

The 19 applicants in the case of Ürper and Others published or wrote articles in five Turkish newspapers (Gündem, Yedinci Gün, Haftaya Bakış, Yaşamda Demokrasi and Gerçek Demokrasi), whose publication was suspended by the Istanbul Assize Court from October to December 2007. The reason given for that decision, taken under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, was that the newspapers were instruments of propaganda of a terrorist organisation (the PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an illegal organisation). The criminal proceedings (still pending) against four of the applicants (Mr Lütfi Ürper – proprietor of Gündem -, and Mr Ali Turgay, Mr Hüseyin Aykol and Mr Hüseyin Bektaş) concern the dissemination of propaganda for that organisation.

The applicant in the Özer (no. 2) case, Mr Aziz Özer, is the proprietor and editor in chief of the monthly Yeni Dünya İçin Çağrı (“Appeal for a New World”) having its registered office in Istanbul. In December 2000 an operation was conducted by the security forces in Turkish prisons, leading to the deaths of two officers and 30 prisoners. In February 2001 the magazine published two articles harshly criticising the operation, accusing the State, among other things, of a “brutal attack” against the prisoners, with a photo on the cover page of some who had been burned or beaten. On account of those articles, all copies of the February 2001 edition of the periodical were seized (judgment of 20 February 2001 of the Beyoğlu Police Court, on the application of the public prosecutor) and Mr Özer was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, later commuted to a fine (judgment of 24 January 2006 of the Beyoğlu Assize Court), for impugning the moral authority of the State.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court

Relying mainly on Article 10 of the Convention, the applicants complained about the measures taken against them on account of their publications. They alleged that those measures had also entailed violations of Articles 6 (right to a fair trial), 7 (no punishment without law) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) and of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property).

The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights between 6 December 2007 and 29 January 2008 (seven applications) in the case of Ürper and Others, and on 19 November 2007 in the Özer (no. 2) case.

The Ürper and Others v. Turkey judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Françoise Tulkens (Belgium), President,
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
András Sajó (Hungary),
Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey), judges,

and Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.

The Özer v. Turkey (no. 2) judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Françoise Tulkens (Belgium), President,
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Dragoljub Popović (Serbia),
András Sajó (Hongary),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey), judges,

and Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.

Decision of the Court

For interferences with the right to freedom of expression, such as those in the present cases, to be compatible with the Convention, it was not sufficient for them to be prescribed by law and to pursue legitimate aims, such as the protection of the rights of others or the prevention of disorder. They also needed to be “necessary” in a democratic society.

In the Ürper and Others judgment, the Court found that this was not the case: it reiterated that the practice of banning the future publication of entire periodicals went beyond any necessary restraint and amounted to censorship. In the Özer (no. 2) judgment it was not the case either: the impugned articles (containing harsh criticism of the State) had dealt with facts that were of great interest to public opinion, and the Court reiterated that the limits of permissible criticism were wider with regard to the Government than in relation to a private citizen. Furthermore, the dominant position which the Government occupied made it necessary for it to display restraint in resorting to criminal proceedings. In the present case the articles had not called on readers to commit acts of violence or terrorism.

The Court accordingly found, unanimously in both cases, that there had been a violation of Article 10. The other complaints were related to those submitted under Article 10 and so were not examined separately2.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded 1,800 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage to each of the applicants in the Ürper and Others case, together with EUR 2,000 jointly for costs and expenses; and in the case of Özer (no 2) it awarded the applicant a sum corresponding to the fine paid, namely EUR 423, together with EUR 3,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,000 for costs and expenses.

***

The Ürper and Others judgment is available only in English, and the Özer (no. 2) judgment only in French. This press release is a document produced by the Registry. It does not bind the Court. The judgments are available on its website (http://www.echr.coe.int).

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