ECtHR soon to announce decision on Turkish teacher convicted of Gülen links

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will on Sept. 26 announce its ruling on Yüksel Yalçınkaya, a Turkish teacher who was convicted of terrorism due to his links to the Gülen movement, Turkish Minute reported.

The ruling will likely have an impact on the conviction or trial of thousands of people who face terrorism charges due to their affiliation with the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016 and labelled as a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

The grand chamber has reportedly informed the Turkish government and Yalçınkaya that it will announce its ruling on Sept. 26.

The Turkish government delivered a defense before the grand chamber on Jan. 18, when the chamber convened to examine Yalçınkaya’s case.

Dr. Gökhan Güneş, an expert on international criminal law and a human rights activist, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the grand chamber is expected to fault Turkey due to violations of four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR): Article 6, which concerns the right to a fair trial; Article 7 on no punishment without law; Article 8 on the right to respect for private and family life; and Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association.

Hakan Kaplankaya, a lawyer and former Turkish diplomat, also said on X that if the grand chamber finds violations of Articles 6 and/or 7 as expected, at least the criminal cases conducted due to people’s links to the Gülen movement before the July 15 coup attempt will be history. He said those convictions will have to be annulled through extraordinary judicial methods.

More than 130,000 public servants were removed from their jobs in a massive purge launched by the Turkish government following the coup attempt on the grounds that they had links to terrorist organizations. Yalçınkaya was one of them.

The chamber to which the Yalçınkaya case had been assigned relinquished jurisdiction in favor of the Grand Chamber in May 2022.

Yalçınkaya was convicted of membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced to six years, three months’ imprisonment in 2017 by high criminal court in the central province of Kayseri. The court based its ruling on his alleged use of the ByLock app, membership in a labor union and an association affiliated with the Gülen movement and having an account at Bank Asya. Yalçınkaya’s sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals in October 2018.

The Turkish Constitutional Court also rejected as inadmissible an application lodged by Yalçınkaya.

Following the coup attempt the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time; using the encrypted ByLock messaging application, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play; and subscribing to the Zaman daily or other publications affiliated with members of the movement as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

During the grand chamber gathering in January, Yalçınkaya’s lawyers, Johan Heymans and Vande Lanotte, said in their defense statements that the prosecution of their client was an obvious sign of the violation of human rights in Turkey. The lawyers said ByLock was available on Apple Store and Google Play and that downloading this app would not make anyone a criminal. The lawyers also said there are thousands of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters who downloaded this app but have not faced any prosecution.

The ECtHR already found the use of ByLock not to constitute a criminal offense as it ruled in July 2021 in the case of former police officer Tekin Akgün that the use of the ByLock application is not an offense in itself and does not constitute sufficient evidence for an arrest.

Yet, despite the ECtHR ruling, detentions and arrests based on ByLock use continue unabated in Turkey.

According to Yalçınkaya’s lawyers, Turkish intel agency MİT collected intelligence on ByLock users unlawfully without a court decision, and their client used the app for a short time in 2015.

Lanotte, who talked about the lack of an independent judiciary in Turkey, said the Gülen movement was labelled as a terrorist organization overnight although it was not considered to have been so before the coup attempt in 2016.

Turkey was ranked 116th among 140 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October 2022. The country saw the purge of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors following the coup attempt. The purge of the so many members of the judiciary is seen by many as an attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to redesign the Turkish judiciary and fill it with pro-government judges and prosecutors.

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