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ECtHR rejects suspended Turkish teacher’s petition for failing to exhaust domestic remedies

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An application filed by Gökhan Köksal, a Turkish primary school teacher who was removed from his post in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, has been turned down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the grounds that the teacher has not yet exhausted all domestic remedies.

Following the attempted coup, Köksal, who was a teacher at the 1071 Malazgirt Primary School in the eastern province of Erzurum, was expelled from his post along with 50,000 other civil servants by a government decree issued on Sept. 1, 2016.

The expelled civil servants were regarded as belonging to, affiliated with or related to terrorist organizations or to organizations, structures or groups that had been found by the National Security Council (MGK) to engage in activities harmful to the state.

Köksal lodged the application with the ECtHR on Nov. 4, 2016.

Relying on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Köksal complained of a violation of his right of access to a court, his right to be presumed innocent and his right to be informed promptly of the accusation against him. Relying on Article 7 (no punishment without law), he complained that he had been dismissed on the basis of acts that did not constitute an offense at the time they were committed.

Köksal also argued that he sustained breaches of his rights and freedoms under Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression), 11 (freedom of assembly and association), 13 (right to an effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

In its decision, which was made public on Monday, the ECtHR unanimously declared Köksal’s application inadmissible on the grounds that he did not exhaust domestic remedies, finding that Köksal had to use the remedy provided for under legislative decree no. 685.

“That legislation provided for the setting-up of a commission with the task, in particular, of adjudicating upon appeals against measures adopted directly by legislative decrees issued in the context of the state of emergency, including the dismissals of civil servants. The decisions taken by the commission could then be appealed against before the administrative courts, whose decisions in turn could be challenged before the Constitutional Court by individual petition,” said the court in its decision.

Following an application to the Constitutional Court and a ruling by that court, anyone could, if necessary, file with the ECtHR a complaint based on the European Convention on Human Rights, added the court.

“Civil servants affected by the relevant measures thus had the possibility of referring their cases to the commission within 60 days from a date to be announced by the Prime Minister by 23 July 2017 at the latest (six months after the entry into force of the Legislative Decree). The burden of proof as to the effectiveness of this remedy would then be on the respondent State,” the court said.

The failed military coup attempt on July 15 killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.

Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

In the currently ongoing post-coup purge, over 150,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged from state jobs due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement while 50,000 others were placed behind bars due to alleged Gülen links.

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