ECtHR faults Turkey again for pretrial detention of 366 people over Gülen links

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has once again faulted Turkey over the arrest and pretrial detention of 366 people following a failed coup in Turkey in 2016 due to their alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, finding an absence of sufficient grounds for their detention, Turkish Minute reported on Tuesday.

The Strasbourg court announced two separate rulings, “Case of Kolay and Others v. Türkiye” and “Case of Mecit and Others v. Türkiye” on Tuesday. The court combined the applications of 284 people in the Kolay case, while the Mecit case included the applications of 82 others due to their similar subject matter.

The applications mainly concerned the arrest and pretrial detention of the applicants in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 on suspicion of membership in an alleged terrorist organization, the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup and labeled as a terrorist organization.

The movement, inspired by the views of Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, denies the accusations.

The applicants, based on court documents, were charged with membership in a terrorist organization due to their use of the ByLock messaging app; having accounts at the now-closed Islamic lender Bank Asya; possessing Gülen-linked publications, US one-dollar bills with an “F” serial number (for “Fethullah”); and/or their employment by and/or membership in institutions and organizations that are all considered by the Turkish government to be linked to the Gülen movement.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the Gülen movement since the 2016 coup attempt despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

In addition, witness statements indicating ties to the movement; social media posts; attending or holding religious meetings; communication with senior executives of the Gülen movement; ensuring communication between Gülen members; staying in Gülen-linked houses; and carrying out various other activities on the alleged orders of the movement were also used by the Turkish courts as criminal evidence against the applicants.

Most of the applicants were convicted of membership of a terrorist organization by the first instance courts, the ECtHR said, adding that, for the most part, the criminal proceedings are still pending before appeals courts.

The applicants complained that there had been no specific evidence giving rise to reasonable suspicion within the meaning of Article 5 § 1 (c) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that they had committed a criminal offense necessitating pretrial detention.

Following the coup attempt, the government launched a massive crackdown on Gülen movement members under the pretext of an anti-coup fight as a result of which hundreds of thousands of people were investigated, prosecuted and given jail sentences.

The applicants took their cases to the ECtHR when their applications at Turkey’s Constitutional Court for rights violations were rejected.

The Strasbourg court stated that Turkey failed to demonstrate the link between the pieces of evidence it mentioned in the detention orders and the existence of a “reasonable suspicion” that the applicants had committed the offense of membership in an armed organization.

The rights court ruled that Turkey violated Article 5 of the ECHR on account of the absence of sufficient grounds for ordering and keeping the applicants in pretrial detention in the cases of all 366 applicants in both cases.

The court ruled that Turkey pay each of the 270 applicants in the Kolay case who submitted a claim for just satisfaction 3,000 euros plus any tax that may be chargeable in non-pecuniary damages and costs and expenses. The remaining 14 applicants will not be paid the 3,000 in damages because they did not submit, or failed to submit within the allotted time period, a claim for just satisfaction.

As for the Mecit case, the court ruled that Turkey pay each of the applicants, except four of them who did not request compensation, 5,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and costs and expenses plus any tax that may be chargeable on this amount.

Tuesday’s rulings are one of the many such rulings made by the court over the past years against Turkey due to its violations of the rights of the people with alleged links to the Gülen movement who were prosecuted in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

In a landmark decision in September, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ruled that Turkey had violated three articles of the ECHR in the case of a former teacher, Yüksel Yalçınkaya: Article 6, which concerns the right to a fair trial; Article 7 on no punishment without law; and Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association.

The Grand Chamber based its ruling on Yalçınkaya’s alleged use of the ByLock app, membership in a labor union and an association affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement; and having an account at now-closed Bank Asya, which are all considered signs of membership in the Gülen movement and criminal evidence.

Legal experts said the grand chamber’s decision made clear that use of ByLock, depositing money at a Gülen-linked bank or being a member of a Gülen-affiliated association cannot be considered criminal evidence against Gülen movement members.

In another ruling in October, the ECtHR faulted Turkey over the arrest and pretrial detention of 45 individuals in the aftermath of the coup attempt due to their alleged Gülen links. Holding that there was a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the convention on account of the lack of reasonable suspicion, the court awarded each of the applicants, except one, 5,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and costs and expenses.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

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