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ECtHR faults Turkey for violating former judge’s right to freedom of expression

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled in the case of former judge İbrahim Kozan that sharing an article criticizing government actions perceived to be violating judicial independence is not plausible grounds for disciplinary sanctions.

The ECtHR has faulted Turkey for violating Kozan’s rights to an effective remedy and freedom of expression, stating that the press article he shared in a private Facebook group in 2015 was part of a debate of particular interest for members of the judiciary and that no judicial remedy had been available to him in respect of the measure taken against him by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK).

The article in question was titled “Judicial rehabilitation for closing the December 17 investigation, dismissal for conducting the investigation,” and dealt with the impartiality and independence of judges concerning events surrounding proceedings for suspected corruption dating from the period Dec. 17-25, 2013 and the government’s opposition to those proceedings.

The Dec. 17-25 bribery and corruption investigations shook the country back in 2013. The probe implicated, among others, the family members of four cabinet ministers as well as the children of then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Despite the fact that the scandal resulted in the resignation of the cabinet members, the investigation was dropped after prosecutors and police chiefs were removed from the case. Erdoğan, officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-government media have described the investigation as an attempt to overthrow the government.

“The fact that a judge had shared with his colleagues certain views in the press about the independence of the justice system, and had allowed them to comment in response, had necessarily fallen within his freedom to impart or receive information in a crucial area for his professional life,” the Strasbourg court said in a press release about its verdict.

The ECtHR held that Turkey was to pay Kozan 6,000 euros for non-pecuniary damages and 4,000 euros for costs and expenses.

Turkey disbarred more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors, among them Kozan, immediately after an abortive military coup in July 2016 over alleged ties to the faith-based Gülen movement, which Ankara accused of orchestrating the attempted putsch. The movement denies any involvement.

The mass disbarment of members of the judiciary is believed by many to have had a chilling effect on the entire justice system, intimidating the remaining judges and prosecutors into doing the government’s bidding by launching politically motivated investigations into critics.

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