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ECtHR landmark decision finds Turkey failing to protect citizens’ fundamental rights, lawyer says

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Bünyamin Tekin, Strasbourg

A recent judgement by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning Yüksel Yalçınkaya, a teacher convicted on terrorism charges, shows that Turkey failed to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, according to Johan Heymans, Yalçınkaya’s lawyer.

The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR on Tuesday ruled that Turkish courts’ conviction of Yalçınkaya of terrorism over activities such as the use of a mobile application or having an account at a certain bank was unlawful, in a decision that could have far-reaching implications for thousands facing similar charges in Turkey.

Speaking to Turkish Minute, Heymans indicated that the Strasbourg court sees systemic issues in Turkey’s judiciary. “The court said, in fact, Turkish judiciary is not functioning properly at the moment,” he said.

The ECtHR faulted Turkey due to violations of 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.

Heymans warned that ensuring Turkey’s compliance with the judgment will be a difficult task, despite the ruling being binding. “We will need to fight hard,” he stated.

Human rights expert Dr. Oktay Bahadır, who once served as Turkey’s legal representative at the ECtHR, stressed that the ruling is significant as it calls on Turkey to address structural issues. The decision is based on Article 46 of the ECHR, which goes beyond offering remedy to just one individual and imposes on the respondent state a legal obligation to put an end to the breach and make reparations for its consequences.

Bahadır emphasized that Turkey’s government branches must take immediate action to comply with the ECtHR ruling.

Bahadır highlighted that the ECtHR’s decision sets a precedent, with implications for approximately 8,500 similar cases in the court’s docket. He warned Turkish authorities to resolve the issue locally to avoid a flood of cases reaching the international court.

Experts say the ruling should 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 labeled as a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

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.

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.

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