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ECtHR faults Turkey for violating rights of Turkish Cypriot conscientious objector

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the rights of Murat Kanatlı, a conscientious objector from the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) who was convicted and imprisoned due to his refusal to perform one-day reserve service in 2009.

A conscientious objector is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or religious principles.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied its northern third in response to a military coup organized by the junta then in power in Greece. Only Turkey recognizes the KKTC, which was proclaimed by Turkish Cypriot leaders in 1983.

Since the ECtHR had previously acknowledged that the northern part of Cyprus was considered a local sub-administration of Turkey, Kanatlı lodged the application against Turkey on April 6, 2015.

He invoked Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the Convention on Human Rights and complained that he was criminally convicted for refusing to perform reserve service when called, justifying his refusal on grounds of conscience.

Kanatlı, who completed his one-year military service in 2005, was called to perform one-day reserve service at a military barracks in the following years.

After fulfilling it in 2006, 2007 and 2008, he became the Cypriot representative of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), which was founded in 1979 as an umbrella organization for national associations of conscientious objectors.

In 2009 he was elected to the executive committee of EBCO, and, in the same year, he refused to perform his reserve service, explaining that as of May 15, 2008, he had become a conscientious objector.

In 2011 the military prosecutor initiated legal action against him. Kanatlı stated that he consciously refused to perform reserve service due to his pacifist and anti-militarist convictions.

He was sentenced to a fine of around 167 euros in 2014. Having refused to pay the fine, Kanatlı subsequently served a 10-day jail sentence.

The Strasbourg court ruled on Tuesday that there has been a violation of Kanatlı’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, stating that the absence of legislation allowing conscientious objectors to request alternative civilian service instead of military service violates the convention.

The court also ordered Turkey to pay the applicant 9,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and 2,363 euros for costs and expenses.

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