European Court of Human Rights Orders Turkey to Compensate Banned Kurdish Newspaper

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JOHN HAYWARD

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a ruling on Tuesday that would require the Turkish government to compensate the owner of Ozgur Gundem, a Kurdish newspaper shuttered by government action after the unsuccessful coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the summer of 2016.

The ECHR found that Erdogan’s government effectively bullied the paper out of existence by filing a string of nuisance criminal proceedings against it without evidence of actual wrongdoing. The paper was investigated and fined dozens of times between 2014 and 2016.

The government alleged Ozgur Gundem was publishing propaganda for the banned Kurdish separatist group PKK. The ECHR reviewed these allegations and found many of the articles introduced by the government as “evidence” contained entirely innocuous messages.

The ruling stated that Ozgur Gundem owner Ali Gurbuz was compelled by government pressure to censor himself, even though he was acquitted of every charge filed against him. Bianet offered some details of the case on Tuesday:

A total of seven lawsuits were filed against Ali Gürbüz, the owner of the then Ülkede Özgür Gündem newspaper, due to 11 articles and news reports which were published on the newspaper between 2004 and 2006.

Among the 11 articles and reports subject to lawsuits were also the ones on Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) Christmas message and statements of inmates, making a call for the establishment of a dialogue with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question.

In 2007, Gürbüz was sentenced to pay a judicial fine on charge of “publishing the statements of the terrorist organization.” The sentence in question was reversed by the Supreme Court of Appeals. Ali Gürbüz was acquitted of all charges pressed against him in 2011.

However, appealing to the ECtHR, Gürbüz stated that “those proceedings had put pressure on him as a media professional on account of their duration and in spite of his acquittal at the end of each set of proceedings.”

“Enforcement measures automatically taken against media professionals, without considering their intentions or the public’s right to be informed of other views on a conflict situation, could not be reconciled with the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas,” the ECHR wrote.

The Turkish government was instructed to pay him a rather modest settlement of about $3,950 U.S. It will be interesting to see if Erdogan resists even this miniscule judgment, as he may not wish to establish the precedent that his prosecutions of critical media organs constitute human rights offenses.

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