Conviction for insulting Erdoğan, dismissal over Facebook likes violated applicants’ rights: ECtHR

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey over the conviction of a student for insulting then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2012 and the dismissal of a contractual employee who had worked for the Ministry of Education for clicking the “Like” button on Facebook posts.

In April 2016 a court ordered Ömür Çağdaş Ersoy to pay a fine of 2,524 euros, finding that he had insulted Erdoğan, noting that Ersoy’s statements had been injurious and humiliating and that he had used the insulting expression “like a rabid dog” about the prime minister.

After his objection to the judgment and his individual application to Turkey’s Constitutional Court were unsuccessful, Ersoy submitted the case to the ECtHR.

The ECtHR ruled that Ersoy’s remarks “were indisputably linked to a public-interest debate about the police intervention in the student demonstration of 18 December 2012 and the attitude and policies of the State authorities and the Prime Minister in respect of the ODTÜ [Middle East Technical University] students.”

In December 2012 more than 3,000 police officers entered the ODTÜ campus to guard Prime Minister Erdoğan as he witnessed the launch of Turkey’s first-ever domestically produced satellite, Göktürk-2. Several hundred students were staging a protest at his presence when they were attacked by the police, resulting in clashes and injuries.

“Politicians inevitably and knowingly laid themselves open to close scrutiny of their every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and they had therefore to display a greater degree of tolerance,” the court said in a press release on the judgment.

The Strasbourg court ordered Turkey to pay Ersoy 2,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and 2,000 euros for costs and expenses.

Dismissal over liking Facebook posts

Selma Melike, a contractual employee at the Ministry of Education, was dismissed in September 2016 by a disciplinary committee for having clicked “Like” on various Facebook articles.

Melike was employed as a janitor at the Seyhan National Education Directorate in Adana and had been working in public institutions since 1996 as a permanent employee.

The posts in question disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the workplace as they alleged that teachers had committed rapes and contained accusations against political leaders, according to Turkish authorities.

The ECtHR noted that “the content in question consisted of virulent political criticism of allegedly repressive practices by the authorities.”

“The disciplinary commission, whose decision had been endorsed by the national courts, applied in her case the maximum penalty provided for by the collective labour agreement, namely immediate termination of the employment contract without entitlement to compensation,” the court noted and ordered Turkey to pay Melike 2,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages.

Turkey was ranked first among the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) member states in the number of judgments from the ECtHR concerning violations of freedom of expression in 2020, according to an activity report announced by the court in January.

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