Turkey to launch retrial of teacher following landmark ECtHR judgment

A Turkish court is scheduled to begin the retrial of Yüksel Yalçınkaya, a teacher whose conviction of Gülen movement affiliation was found by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to have violated his fundamental rights, the Bold Medya news website reported on Tuesday.

The retrial will begin in Kayseri on April 2, according to the report.

Yalçınkaya was sentenced in 2017 to more than six years in prison over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government of “terrorist activities.”

His conviction was based on his bank account, labor union membership and use of a mobile messaging application called ByLock.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding the failed coup and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In September 2023 the Strasbourg court ruled that the conviction violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): 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 court also said the problem related to the use of ByLock as evidence was systemic, calling on the Turkish authorities to address thousands of similar cases.

Turkish officials, however, expressed their intent to implement the Yalçınkaya ruling as an isolated case instead of interpreting it as a precedent.

Experts such as the Turkish Bar Association and prominent jurist Tolga Şirin have called on the Turkish government to abide by the Yalçınkaya judgment.

In the meantime, reports indicated ongoing waves of detention of people over ByLock use despite the Yalçınkaya ruling.

Following the coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government summarily removed some 4,000 judges and prosecutors from their jobs due to alleged Gülen links.

Many experts and observers said the post-coup purges sent a chilling effect on the remaining members of the judiciary.

Erdoğan’s government has also been accused of replacing the purged judicial members with young and inexperienced judges and prosecutors who have close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In a development that confirmed the erosion of the Turkish judiciary, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the 2023 Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in late October, dropping one place in comparison to the previous year.

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