Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests, Political Expression
Microtech Contracting Corp. v. Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York
Closed Expands Expression
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Murat Vural was sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of an offense under Turkey’s Law on Offences Committed Against Atatürk for having poured paint on statues of Kemal Atatürk. As of result of domestic legislation, Vural’s sentence included the provision that he could neither vote nor become a candidate for office while serving his prison term. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that there had been a violation of Vural’s right under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the ECHR.
Murat Vural, a Turkish national who was born in 1975 and lives in Ankara, was sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment after being found guilty under Turkey’s Law on Offences Committed Against Atatürk for having poured paint on statues of Kemal Atatürk. In accordance with domestic legislation, between the date on which his conviction became final and the official end date of his prison term, Vural was not allowed to vote or be a candidate in elections.
Relying in particular on Article 10 of the ECHR, claiming that his right to freedom of expression had been infringed upon, Vural complained that he had been punished for having expressed his opinions and that the punishment was excessive with regard to the offense committed. He also complained that the ban on voting imposed on him was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1: the right to free elections. Vural lodged the present application with the European Court of Human Rights in 2007.
The first point the ECtHR addressed was the Turkish government’s claim that Vural’s actions fell outside the scope of Article 10 of the ECHR, as they were instead to be considered acts of vandalism. The ECtHR disagreed and came to the conclusion that Article 10 was applicable to the current case, claiming that pouring paint on a statue could be seen as an “expressive act” [para. 54]. In the course of the criminal proceedings, Vural had not been found guilty of vandalism, but rather of having insulted the memory of Atatürk; this, and the fact that Vural had admitted to merely intending to express his “lack of affection” [para. 54] for Atatürk, was also considered by the ECtHR in ruling that his conviction, the imposition of a prison sentence, and his disenfranchisement as a result of his conviction had thus constituted an interference with his rights under Article 10 of the ECHR.
While the ECtHR acknowledged that Atatürk was an iconic figure in Turkey and that the Turkish Parliament had chosen to criminalize certain conduct considered insulting to Atatürk’s memory and damaging to the sentiments of Turkish society, the extreme severity of the sentence of more than 13 years’ imprisonment was grossly disproportionate and no reasoning could be sufficient to justify the imposition of such a severe punishment for the actions in question.
With regards to Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, the right to free elections, the ECtHR referred to the judgment of the Grand Chamber in the case of Hirst v. United Kingdom (No.2), underlining the principle that a general, automatic, and indiscriminate restriction on the right to vote, as applied to all those serving custodial sentences, was incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. As a result, the fact that Vural had been made ineligible to vote for a period of more than 11 years, from February 5, 2007, when his conviction became final, until October 22, 2018, the date of his release from prison, meant that there had been a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision is seen as a legal victory for freedom of expression due to its finding “no reasoning can be sufficient to justify the imposition of such a severe punishment for the actions in question” [para.67].
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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