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ECtHR faults Turkey for violating rights of top court member dismissed in 2016

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the rights of a member of the Council of State who was removed from his position following the adoption of a restructuring law in 2016.

Bekir Sözen, a Council of State judge, was dismissed from the court after parliament adopted Law No. 6723, which amended the law on the Council of State and certain other laws designed to restructure the Council of State and the Supreme Court of Appeals, two weeks before a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The law, which went into effect on July 23, 2016, made it possible for the Turkish government to dismiss members of the high judiciary without due process in order to reduce the number of members of these top courts. The term of office of every member of the Supreme Court of Appeals was terminated.

While some of those dismissed were reappointed to the Council of State by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), Sözen was not.

He was also put in pretrial detention following the 2016 coup attempt due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the abortive putsch. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

In August 2016 the HSK terminated Sözen’s term of office, using authority granted by the declaration of a state of emergency in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

Sözen filed an individual appeal with the Constitutional Court the same month, claiming that his right of access to a court had been violated regarding the early termination.

The top court delivered its judgment on Sözen’s individual appeal in November 2022 and found his complaint related to his right of access to a court admissible, but ruled that there had been no violation of this right.

Sözen took his dismissal to the Strasbourg-based court in November 2016, where he complained of a violation of his right of access to a court under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention on Human Rights, saying that it was impossible for him to effectively seek judicial review.

The ECtHR ruled on Tuesday that that there had been a violation of Sözen’s right of access to a court, ordering Turkey to pay the applicant 7,800 euros in non-pecuniary damages and 1,000 euros for costs and expenses.

Numerous members of the Turkish judiciary were arrested after the failed coup as part of a mass crackdown on the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of a fight against the coup plotters. More than 130,000 public servants, including more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

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