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ECtHR faults Turkey for prison authorities’ withholding of periodicals sent to 2 prisoners

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of two prisoners whose bi-weekly periodicals were withheld by prison authorities.

The applications concerning the prison authorities withholding of four issues of the bi-weekly Yeni Demokrasi (New Democracy) periodical were lodged by prisoners Abdulmenaf Osman and Mehmet Altunç Altay, nationals of Syria and Turkey, respectively.

Osman and Altay were serving life sentences in the Akhisar and Edirne maximum security prisons, respectively, at the relevant time, having been convicted for activities with a view to bringing about the secession of land placed under the sovereign authority of the state or state administration and attempting to undermine the constitutional order by force.

On May 17, 2019 the Manisa Prison Education Committee intercepted four issues of the bi-weekly periodical sent by post to Osman and decided not to deliver them to him after finding that the publications “posed a threat to security at the prison.”

An appeal lodged by Osman against the decision was dismissed by the Akhisar enforcement judge on June 13, 2019, while his objection to the decision was dismissed by the Akhisar High Criminal Court on June 27, 2019.

Similarly, the Edirne Prison Education Committee on Dec. 21, 2018, intercepted four issues of the periodical sent to Altay by post and decided not to deliver them to him. The committee argued that those publications were “apt to foment insubordination among the prisoners” and to “pose a threat to security at the prison.”

The Edirne enforcement judge dismissed Altay’s objection against the committee’s decision on Jan. 18, 2019, and the Edirne High Criminal Court dismissed his appeal of the decision on Feb. 14, 2019.

Although both of the applicants lodged individual applications with the Constitutional Court in 2019, arguing that the prison authorities had infringed upon their freedom of expression by withholding various issues of the periodical, the court declared those applications “inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded” on different dates in 2020.

The Strasbourg court on Tuesday underlined in its decision that prisoners continued to enjoy the right to receive information and ideas in prison and that any restriction of that right must meet a “pressing social need.”

The court found that the Turkish government had failed to demonstrate that the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify the impugned measures had been relevant and sufficient or that those measures had been necessary in a democratic society.

The ECtHR, therefore, ordered the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to pay Osman and Altay 1,000 euros each in nonpecuniary damages.

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