Praising Gülen movement before 2016 coup attempt not a crime, ECtHR says

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey for violating the right to freedom of expression of a former teacher, stating that public comments in favor of the Gülen movement made before a coup attempt in July 2016 do not constitute a crime, Turkish Minute reported on Tuesday.

The judgment came after Yasin Özdemir, one of more than 130,000 civil servants who were dismissed from their jobs due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement as part of a purge carried out after the failed coup, complained to the ECtHR about his conviction for praising crime and criminals, due to comments he had posted on social media in April 2015 in favor of the group.

The ECtHR issued its ruling on Tuesday, responding to the complaint submitted in March 2018, that Özdemir’s conviction was a violation of freedom of expression since his messages had contained ideas and opinions, expressed within the framework of public debates on certain sensitive subjects, that “hadn’t incited people to commit violence or revolt.”

“At the material time no members of the Gülenist movement had been convicted with the final effect of being leaders or members of an illegal or terrorist organisation,” the court also said, referring to the Turkish government’s accusation of the group as orchestrators of the failed coup and labeling them as a terrorist organization.

Kerem Altıparmak, a member of the Ankara Bar Association, on Tuesday referred to the court’s statement in the judgment that said, “… whether the movement was an educational and religious community or an organisation endeavouring unlawfully to infiltrate the State organs had been the subject of heated public debate in April 2015 ….”

Altıparmak indicated in a tweet that the statement would affect tens of thousands of cases, expecting that the court would find violations in cases where it would examine Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights in complaints against convictions based on links to the Gülen movement.

The article stipulates that “no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.”

“The judges and prosecutors, who use the legal and routine activities in the past as grounds for conviction, are committing crimes knowingly and willingly! … All such convictions will be overturned by the ECtHR, and they [Gülen movement supporters] will eventually get their due,” former judge Kemal Karanfil, who was also purged after the coup attempt, tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the judgment.

“The ECtHR has thrown away the milestones and punishment criteria [belonging to a time before July 15, 2016, and] produced by Ankara [to convict Gülen movement members]. The Yasin Özdemir decision will set a precedent for tens of thousands of people accused on similar grounds,” said freelance journalist Necdet Çelik, a former correspondent for Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, following corruption investigations in late 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

A total of 319,587 people were detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in November.

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