ECtHR fines Turkey over conviction of publishing company owner

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on Tuesday that the conviction of a the owner of a Turkish publishing house for releasing a book about the disappearance of a journalist violates Article 10 on freedom of expression of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), fining Turkey 2,500 euros.

According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, the case concerns the application of Fatih Taş, whose publishing company released a book in April 2004 titled “Kayıpsın Diyorlar” (They say you disappeared) regarding the disappearance of a journalist in 1994. The author of the book claims the journalist in question had been abducted by village guards and special police operation teams while he was in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa’s Siverek district working on an investigative report.

In July 2004 Taş was initially charged with “denigrating the Turkish Republic” and received a sentence of six months. Following an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals, Taş was eventually ordered in November 2008 to pay a fine of 1,650 Turkish lira.

On Dec. 30, 2008, Taş took his case to the ECtHR and complained the ruling by the Turkish courts in his case lacked independence and impartiality. After studying the passages of the book to which Turkish courts had referred in convicting Taş, the ECtHR noted that while they certainly contained criticism of state authorities that was at times harsh and exaggerated, it had in no way been “gratuitously offensive” or insulting and had not incited violence or hatred.

Consequently, the ECtHR ruled that the “criminal proceedings complained of not having met a pressing social need and had in any event not been proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.”

Accordingly, in a ruling on Tuesday, the ECtHR concluded that Turkish authorities had not carried out an appropriate balancing exercise between the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the legitimate aims pursued, ordering the Turkish government to pay Taş 2,500 euros in non-pecuniary damage.

The ECtHR also ruled on Tuesday that the right to a fair trial of Turkish citizen Ömer Güner, who testified at the National Security Directorate without the presence of a lawyer, has been violated, according to a report by Bianet.

Güner, who was the manager of a hotel at the time, was arrested in July 2002 by the counterterrorism police as part of an operation against the Bolşevik Parti-Kuzey Kürdistan/Türkiye (Bolshevik Party-North Kurdistan/Turkey).

The police seized various left-wing materials found in his room. Speaking to the police without a lawyer being present, Güner said that he had let two men linked to the Bolshevik Party stay at the hotel and use his car. Güner was charged with aiding and abetting an illegal organization in 2002 and sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Since his objection has been rejected by Turkish courts, he applied to the ECtHR. In his application, Güner stated that he had been denied legal assistance in the preliminary investigation stage, that his statements had been made under duress and that he had been convicted on the basis of testimony made in the absence of a lawyer.

In its verdict announced on Tuesday, the ECtHR acknowledged Güner to be right and sentenced Turkey to pay compensation.

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