ECtHR faults Turkey for violating courthouse protesters’ right to freedom of assembly

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to freedom of assembly of 15 applicants who were sentenced to prison over a non-violent protest at a courthouse in 2003.

In November 2003 the 15 applicants were arrested, put in pretrial detention, prosecuted and convicted for having staged a protest inside a courthouse. The protesters chanted pro-Kurdish slogans, displayed a banner, threw leaflets around and locked themselves in one of the courthouse’s corridors, which led to the cancellation of some of the hearings scheduled for that day.

They were sentenced to one year, eight months’ imprisonment, which then led to the case “Ekrem Can and Others v. Turkey.”

Stating that the applicants’ conduct had not been violent and had not caused damage, the ECtHR ruled that there had been interference with the exercise of their right to freedom of assembly through their arrest, detention, prosecution and conviction based on their participation in a protest.

“A peaceful demonstration should not, in principle, be rendered subject to the threat of a criminal sanction and notably to deprivation of liberty. In the present case the Court could not discern, including from the domestic courts’ decisions, any justification for sentencing each of the applicants to such a particularly severe prison sentence on account solely of their behaviour at the courthouse,” the ECtHR said in an information note about the case

The ECtHR held that Turkey pay each applicant 7,500 euros for non-pecuniary damages and, jointly, 2,000 euros for costs and expenses.

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