The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has asked the Turkish government if it is lawful to interfere with freedom of religion in the case of an applicant who was convicted over links to the Gülen movement, the Bold Medya news website reported on Saturday.
Sabri Paçaman was arrested following a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and sentenced to seven years, six months’ imprisonment on charges of terrorist organization membership by a high criminal court, which based its ruling on his alleged use of the ByLock app, his banking activities at Bank Asya, membership in a trade union, his attendance in sohbet meetings (religious meetings) and the collection of funds on behalf of the Gülen movement.
The Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding the failed coup and labeled a “terrorist organization,” denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered by the Turkish government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.
The ECtHR ruled in July in the case of a former police officer that use of the ByLock application is not an offense in itself and does not constitute sufficient evidence for arrest.
The Strasbourg court posed a series of questions to the Turkish government published on July 26 regarding Paçaman’s case.
“Has there been an interference with the applicant’s freedom of conscience and religion, within the meaning of Article 9 § 1 of the Convention? In particular, was the applicant’s participation to ‘conversations’ (sohbet meetings) a manifestation of his freedom of religion within the meaning of this provision? If so, was that interference prescribed by law and necessary in terms of the second paragraph of that provision?” the ECtHR asked.
The ECtHR says the applicant’s case concerns “the alleged violations of the principle of nullum crimen sine lege [no crime without law] and the prohibition against retrospective application of criminal laws.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt.
Following the failed coup, the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, and using ByLock, subscribing to the Zaman daily or other publications affiliated with members of the movement, as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
After the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants 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.