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Turkey’s justice minister accuses ECtHR of ‘exceeding authority’ in ruling on teacher

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Turkish Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç has slammed the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for faulting Turkey in the case of a teacher convicted of terrorism due to his links to a faith-based group, accusing the court of exceeding its authority and acting as an appeals court.

Tunç said on his X social media account on Tuesday shortly after the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR announced its ruling about former teacher Yüksel Yalçınkaya that the decision was unacceptable.

The Grand Chamber ruled that Turkey violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in Yalçınkaya’s case: Article 6, which concerns the right to a fair trial; Article 7 on no punishment without law; and Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association.

Tunç said Yalçınkaya was convicted of terrorism in all the Turkish courts he appeared before due to his links to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016 and labelled as a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch or terrorist activity.

The minister said the ECtHR cannot act as an appeals court and examine evidence as he cited several earlier rulings by the court to support his claim.

In Yalçınkaya’s case, the Grand Chamber based its ruling on his alleged use of the ByLock app, membership in a labor union and an association affiliated with the Gülen movement and having an account at now-closed Bank Asya, which are all considered signs of membership in the Gülen movement and criminal evidence.

Tunç accused the rights court of departing from its established practice of not examining evidence, hence exceeding its authority.

“Our country will continue its fight against terrorism with determination in line with its domestic law and international responsibilities,” said the minister.

Tunç attracted criticism for his comments about the Grand Chamber’s Yalçınkaya decision, with some jurists accusing him of not accurately knowing about the authorities of the Strasbourg-based court and misinterpreting its earlier decisions.

Lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said the minister has been misled about earlier ECtHR decisions because the rights court in fact does have the authority to examine evidence. She mentioned several decisions of the court where it examined evidence and recalled Article 46 of the ECHR, which applies to every judgment in which the court has found a violation of the ECHR, meaning that the court’s finding imposes on the respondent state a legal obligation to put an end to the breach and make reparations for its consequences.

The Grand Chamber also called on Turkey to take general measures appropriate to addressing systemic problems, notably with regard to the Turkish judiciary’s approach to ByLock evidence, saying that there are already 8,500 applications on the court’s docket involving similar alleged rights violations and that thousands are likely to be lodged as Turkish authorities have identified around 100,000 ByLock users.

Kerem Altıparkmak, a professor of law, said if the minister’s claim had been true, the ECtHR would not be able to examine evidence obtained under torture and accepted by the local courts.

“The ECtHR examines the predictability of what would count as evidence in law, it would not serve its function if it had not,” said Altıparmak.

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