Defamation / Reputation, Hate Speech, Political Expression
Awan v. Levant
Closed Expands Expression
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Ahmet Sami Belek and Savaş Velioğlu are respectively the owner and the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Günlük Evrensel, registered in Istanbul, Turkey. On May 21, 2003, the newspaper published an article that contained a statement by members of the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress, also known as the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The statement called for a democratic solution concerning the Kurdish community. It also criticized the detention conditions of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK. Following the publication, the Istanbul public prosecutor brought an indictment against Belek and Velioğlu pursuant to Turkey’s law No. 3713 related to fight against terrorism. On December 10, 2003, a security court ordered Belek and Velioğlu to pay fines equivalent to approximately 575 and 285 euros respectively. It also banned the publication of the newspaper for three days.
On November 4, 2004, Belek and Velioğlu jointly filed an application in the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the Turkish government violated their right to freedom of expression. The Court ruled that the article as a whole did not incite to violence or rebellion and it did not contain any element of hate speech. As a result, it found that the criminal convictions and imposed penalties were not necessary within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention and therefore, Turkey had violated the journalists’ right to freedom of expression.
Ahmet Sami Belek and Savaş Velioğlu were respectively the owner and the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Günlük Evrensel.
On May 21, 2003, the newspaper published an article with aa statement emanating from imprisoned members of the PKK who called for a democratic solution to solve the Kurdish issue, and emphasized the importance and need for an amnesty law. They also criticised the detention conditions of their leader Abdullah Öcalan.
On December 10, 2003, a state security court sentenced Belek and Velioğlu, on the basis of Articles 6 §§ 2 and 4 of the Law No. 3713 on the fight against terrorism, to pay approximately 575 and 285 euros respectively. It also ordered a three-day publication ban of the newspaper pursuant to the additional Article 2 § 1 of the Press Law (Law No. 5680). Later, the Court of Cessation upheld the judgment. Upon the abolishment of security courts, the Criminal Court of Istanbul lifted the ban on publication of the newspaper.
On November 4, 2004, Belek and Velioğlu (applicants) brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights. They alleged that their criminal convictions and the ban on publication were in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court first acknowledged that the applicants’ convictions and penalties interfered with their right to freedom of expression. But it noted that such interference was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim of government, namely the maintenance of public safety and prevention of disorder and crime. The Court accordingly addressed whether the interference was “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention.
The Court paid particular attention to the words used in the impugned article and to the context in which it had been published. It found that the text of the article, taken as a whole, did not incite to violence, armed resistance or rebellion. It also found that the article lacked any element of hate speech that could justify any restrictions.
The Court further noted that the grounds on the basis of which national courts of Turkey had convicted the applicants were not sufficient to justify the interference with their right to freedom of expression.
Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
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