The denial of the possibility of education to detainees through the use of computer violated their right to education.

JUDGMENT

Mehmet Reşit Arslan and Orhan Bingöl v. Turkey (no. 47121/06)

see here

SUMMARY

Reasonable right of prisoners to continue their studies during their imprisonment.

The applicants were convicted of a serious offense – participation in an illegal armed organisation. One of them was transferred to high security prisons. Their requests to have access to audiovisual materials in order to pursue higher-education studies,  even at their own expense,  were rejected for security reasons. The Court ratified the prison authorities’ decisions without presenting any reasons.

The European Court of Human Rights  held that there has been a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) because the national courts have failed to strike a fair balance between the applicants’ rights to education under Article 2 of Protocol No 1 on the one hand, and the imperatives of public order on the other.

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicants, Mr Mehmet Reşit Arslan and Mr Orhan Bingöl, are two Turkish nationals who were
born in 1966 and 1973. Mr Arslan and Mr Bingöl were convicted in 1992 and 1995, respectively, for
membership of an illegal armed organisation. They are both serving sentences of life imprisonment.
On 13 March 2006 Mr Arslan requested the İzmir Prison authorities to allow him to use a computer
and have Internet access as provided for, subject to certain conditions, by Law no. 5275 on the
execution of sentences. The prison’s management and supervisory board issued an unfavourable
opinion on the grounds that Mr Arslan maintained links inside the prison with other inmates
belonging to the same illegal organisation and that he had not enrolled in any training course. The
prison authorities endorsed that opinion and denied his request.

On 3 April 2006 Mr Arslan applied to the İzmir post-sentencing judge, stating that prior to his
conviction he had been a final-year medical student and that he wished to have access to
audiovisual materials in order to pursue his higher-education studies. Failing that, he offered to pay
for the necessary equipment from his own funds. The judge rejected the application. Mr Arslan
applied to have that decision set aside but the İzmir Assize Court dismissed his application on the
grounds that the post-sentencing judge’s decision had not been in breach of the procedure or the
law. While in detention in İzmir F-type Prison, Mr Arslan acquired an electronic device through the
prison authorities which included a calculator function and an English-Turkish translation tool, and
was given permission to use it in his cell. After he was transferred to a different prison in Bolu, the
device was placed in safe keeping and his request to have it returned was refused on the grounds
that it did not feature on the list of permitted items. Mr Arslan brought court actions which were
dismissed. After being transferred to Bolu high-security prison, he requested permission from the prison authorities to purchase and use a computer. The authorities refused the request. The applicant appealed to the courts without success.

On 1 August 2006 Mr Bingöl requested permission from the prison authorities to use a computer
and have access to the Internet. The deputy director of the prisons directorate at the Ministry of
Justice refused the request. Mr Bingöl appealed to the post-sentencing judge against the refusal. His
appeal was dismissed, and an application to have that decision set aside was rejected by the Kocaeli
Assize Court.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT 

Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention

The Court observed that domestic law afforded prisoners the possibility of using a computer and
having access to the Internet under certain conditions. Turkish legislation did not impose a blanket
ban on the use of a computer or Internet access. Section 67 (3) of Law no. 5275 provided that
prisoners could use audiovisual training tools and computers, with supervised Internet access in
specific rooms and in the context of rehabilitation or training courses.

The Court noted that the domestic authorities had relied on various reasons to justify the denial of
the applicants’ requests. The request submitted by Mr Arslan had been denied on the basis of the
prison authorities’ opinion that he had maintained relations with other prisoners who were
members of the same illegal organisation and had not enrolled in any training. Mr Bingöl had not
enrolled either and he had also been disciplined on numerous occasions.

The Court found it noteworthy that both applicants wished to pursue their higher education. They
had both taken part in 2006 in the entrance examinations for an institute of higher education and
had shown a great interest in pursuing their studies that had been interrupted as a result of their
final conviction.

The Court reiterated that the importance of education in prison had been acknowledged by the
Committee of Ministers in its recommendations on education in prison and in its European Prison
Rules. While the security considerations raised by the national authorities and the Government could be regarded as pertinent in the present case, the Court observed that the national courts had not carried out any detailed analysis of the security risks. In addition, they had not duly weighed up the various interests at stake and had failed in their duty to prevent any abuse of power by the administration. In those circumstances, the Court was not persuaded by the grounds put forward to justify the authorities’ denial of the requests by Mr Arslan and Mr Bingöl to use audiovisual materials and computers and to have Internet access.

The Court concluded that the domestic courts had failed to strike a fair balance between the
applicants’ right to education under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 on the one hand and the imperatives
of public order on the other. It found that there had been a violation of that Article in respect of
both applicants.

Article 6 § 1

Having regard to the reasoning which led it to finding a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 and
finding that it had already examined the main legal question in the present case, the Court took the
view that it did not need to examine the admissibility or merits of this complaint.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

Mr Arslan had not made any claim by way of just satisfaction. The Court held that no circumstances
warranted awarding him any sum on that basis. In Mr Bingöl’s case, it found that the finding of a
violation constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage sustained(echrcaselaw.com).


ECHRCaseLaw

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