European Court of Human Rights: Attending a demonstration not proof of membership in terrorist organization

European Court of Human Rights building, Strasbourg

In the case of a Turkish citizen who was convicted of membership in a terrorist organization for attending a demonstration, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled against Turkey and ordered Ankara to pay 5,000 euros to the defendant, Ramazan Taş.

Taş was convicted on terrorism-related charges for attending pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) demonstrations held in the southeastern city of Batman on four different occasions in 2006, 2008 and 2009. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

His case was submitted to the ECtHR on June 15, 2011, and the ruling came down on Tuesday.

In its ruling the ECtHR said Taş’s conviction was in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning freedom of expression.

Speaking to Gazete Duvar, Taş’s lawyer Erkan Şenses said the ECtHR’s decision was in line with a report by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) of the Council of Europe that includes Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which defines the crime of “membership in an armed organization.” In its report the commission had concluded that the article must be “applied in a radically different manner to bring [its] application fully in line with Article 10 [European Convention on Human Rights] and Article 19 [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].”

Şenses said the ruling was also in line with the ECtHR’s decision in the case of Işıkırık v. Turkey dated November 14, 2017 in which the ECtHR criticized the Turkish courts for interpreting the concept of “membership” as defined in Article 220/6 of the TCK in a loose manner to apply to a wide variety of cases including attending a demonstration and chanting slogans.

According to the article, “Any person who commits an offense on behalf of an [armed] organization, although he is not a member of that organization, shall also be sentenced for the offense of being a member of that organization.”

Şenses said the Turkish Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeals need to take these rulings into account and agree that Article 220/6 does not apply to meetings and demonstrations.

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