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European rights court orders Turkey to compensate owner of shut-down Kurdish daily

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday ordered Turkey to compensate the owner of a Kurdish newspaper that was shut down in 2016, after finding that criminal proceedings had been “systematically opened” against it, Reuters reported.

The closure of the Özgür Gündem daily, for what the Turkish court that ordered it said was spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), came shortly after an abortive coup in Turkey in July 2016.

The paper, which focused on the conflict between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the country’s mainly Kurdish Southeast, has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of its correspondents since 2014.

In its ruling published on Tuesday, the ECtHR said criminal proceedings against the paper had been “systematically opened, regardless of the actual content of the articles.”

The ECtHR said the lawsuits had led the paper’s owner, Ali Gürbüz, to self-censor for fear of conviction and ordered the Turkish government to pay him 3,500 euros ($3,950).

Turkey has the right to appeal the ruling.

The ECtHR said the criminal proceedings could be seen as the authorities trying to suppress publication of statements by terrorist organizations “even though they could be regarded as contributing to a public debate.” Some articles cited contained “insignificant messages,” such as Christmas wishes, and did not constitute calls for violence or hate speech, it said.

The PKK is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union. More than 40,000 people have been killed during its three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

Since the failed coup attempt, Turkey has jailed more than 77,000 people pending trial, while 150,000 civil servants and military personnel have been suspended or sacked. Some 150 media outlets have been shut down and 160 journalists jailed.

Widespread arrests are still routine.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

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