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Teacher’s retrial after landmark ECtHR judgment starts under tight security measures

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The retrial of Yüksel Yalçınkaya, a teacher whose conviction on terrorism charges was found by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to have violated his fundamental rights, has begun in central Turkey under heightened security measures, the Kronos news website reported on Tuesday.

The Kayseri 2nd High Criminal Court on Tuesday held the first hearing behind closed doors, attended by Yalçınkaya, who had been convicted of terrorism due to his links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government of “terrorist activities.”

Following a 30-minute session, the court ruled to adjourn the trial to September 12.

According to Kronos, two members of the Yalçınkaya family; a number of lawyers, including Hatice Yıldız, Levent Mazılıgüney and Kemal Uçar; and some of the victims of a massive purge of state institutions by the Turkish government in the aftermath of a failed coup on July 15, 2016, who were waiting to observe the hearing, were not allowed into the courtroom, where steel barriers had been placed by riot police before the trial.

Lawyer Yıldız told Kronos that no one from the Kayseri and Ankara bar associations was allowed to attend the trial on Tuesday. Yıldız also noted the lack of media presence apart from KHK TV, a YouTube channel established by Turkey’s purge victims, and the absence of any politicians except for Liberal Party chairman Zübeyir Gülabi and Felicity Party (SP) vice chair Mahmut Arıkan.

The only witness who testified at Tuesday’s hearing, Yalçınkaya’s neighbor Tuba Avcı, said she had no information or evidence that Yalçınkaya was a member of an armed terrorist organization. She mentioned only seeing a newspaper at his door and suspected that he might have links to terrorism. She added that she requested an investigation into Yalçınkaya for the good of the country.

The court also ruled for the continuation of Yalçınkaya’s travel ban.

Yalçınkaya was sentenced in 2017 to more than six years in prison over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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 Yalçınkaya’s 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 decision.

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