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Praising Gülen movement before 2016 coup attempt not a crime, ECtHR says

This photo shows the inside of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, eastern France, on February 7, 2019. (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey for violating the right to freedom of expression of a former teacher, stating that public comments in favor of the Gülen movement made before a coup attempt in July 2016 do not constitute a crime, local media reported on Tuesday.

The judgment came after Yasin Özdemir, one of more than 130,000 civil servants who were dismissed from their jobs due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement as part of a purge carried out after the failed coup, complained to the ECtHR about his conviction for praising crime and criminals, due to comments he had posted on social media in April 2015 in favor of the group.

The ECtHR issued its ruling on Tuesday, responding to the complaint submitted in March 2018, that Özdemir’s conviction was a violation of freedom of expression since his messages had contained ideas and opinions, expressed within the framework of public debates on certain sensitive subjects, that “hadn’t incited people to commit violence or revolt.”

“At the material time no members of the Gülenist movement had been convicted with the final effect of being leaders or members of an illegal or terrorist organisation,” the court also said, referring to the Turkish government’s accusation of the group as orchestrators of the failed coup and labeling them as a terrorist organization.

Kerem Altıparmak, a member of the Ankara Bar Association, on Tuesday referred to the court’s statement in the judgment that said, “… whether the movement was an educational and religious community or an organisation endeavouring unlawfully to infiltrate the State organs had been the subject of heated public debate in April 2015 ….”

Altıparmak indicated in a tweet that the statement would affect tens of thousands of cases, expecting that the court would find violations in cases where it would examine Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights in complaints against convictions based on links to the Gülen movement.

The article stipulates that “no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.”

“The judges and prosecutors, who use the legal and routine activities in the past as grounds for conviction, are committing crimes knowingly and willingly! … All such convictions will be overturned by the ECtHR, and they [Gülen movement supporters] will eventually get their due,” former judge Kemal Karanfil, who was also purged after the coup attempt, tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the judgment.

“The ECtHR has thrown away the milestones and punishment criteria [belonging to a time before July 15, 2016, and] produced by Ankara [to convict Gülen movement members]. The Yasin Özdemir decision will set a precedent for tens of thousands of people accused on similar grounds,” said freelance journalist Necdet Çelik, a former correspondent for Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, following corruption investigations in late 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close circle.

The war against the movement culminated after the attempted coup because Erdoğan and his AKP government accused the movement of masterminding the abortive putsch and initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Although both Gülen and the members of his group strongly deny any involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activities, Erdoğan’s AKP has detained a total of 319,587 people while jailing 99,962 over alleged links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, according to the latest Interior Ministry data.

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