Erdoğan, chief justice slam ECtHR ruling on teacher convicted of Gülen links

Chief Justice Zühtü Arslan and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and chief justice Zühtü Arslan have condemned a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that faulted Turkey for the conviction of a teacher on terrorism charges due to his links to a faith-based group, Turkish Minute reported.

In a landmark decision on Sept. 26, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ruled that Turkey had violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case 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.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

In his first comments on the decision, which is expected to affect the cases of thousands of people facing similar charges or convictions, Erdoğan said in a speech during the reopening of the Turkish parliament on Sunday that the court’s decision was the straw that broke the camel’s back as he has been uneasy with a series of decisions made by the court concerning rights violations suffered by his critics over the past several years.

He called on followers of the Gülen movement not to become too hopeful about the ECtHR decision, implying that Turkey would not take the steps demanded by the court to prevent similar rights violations.

The Grand Chamber also called on Turkey to implement general measures appropriate to addressing systemic problems, notably with regard to the Turkish judiciary’s approach to ByLock evidence, saying there are already 8,500 applications on the court’s docket involving similar alleged rights violations and that thousands are likely to be lodged as Turkish authorities have identified around 100,000 ByLock users.

Turkish authorities see ByLock as a secret communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement.

Erdoğan said it is impossible for his government to respect or comply with the decisions of institutions that position themselves on the side of “terrorist organizations.”

Chief Justice Arslan, who spoke to reporters at a reception on Sunday, was asked to comment on the ECtHR ruling on Yalçınkaya.

Until then, he had remained silent despite calls for him to speak because the Constitutional Court had found Yalçınkaya’s petition inadmissible, prompting him to take his case to the Strasbourg-based court since he had exhausted all domestic remedies regarding his conviction. He had been sentenced to six years, three months on charges of terrorist organization membership.

Arslan said the Constitutional Court’s decision on Yalçınkaya was obvious and that the ECtHR has made a different ruling.

“We don’t agree with the ECtHR’s ruling,” he said, adding that the top court would revisit the case during the teacher’s retrial.

Last week Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç also spoke out against the ECtHR’s Yalçınkaya decision and accused the court of exceeding its authority.

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