Journalist’s condemnation for gloryfying violence and the kidnappers did not violated the freedom of expression

JUDGMENT

Altıntaş v. Turkey 10.03.2020 (no.  50495/08)

see here 

SUMMARY

The case concerned a judicial fine imposed on Mr Altıntaş for an article published in 2007 in his
periodical Tokat Demokrat, describing the perpetrators of the “Kızıldere events”, among others as
“idols of the youth”. The events in question took place in March 1972, when three British nationals
working for NATO were abducted and executed by their kidnappers.

Mr Altıntaş was convicted in 2008 by the Criminal Court, which found that the article glorified the
insurgents involved in those events.

The Court held as follows:

– Mr Altıntaş had suffered a disproportionate restriction of his right of access to a court as he had not
been able to appeal on points of law against a conviction decided at first instance because the
amount of the judicial fine did not reach the statutory threshold for such an appeal. The Court drew
attention to its relevant case-law.

– The interference with Mr Altıntaş’s right to freedom of expression had not been disproportionate
to the legitimate aims pursued. The Court took the view, in particular, that the expressions used in
the article, about the perpetrators of the “Kızıldere events” and their acts, could be seen as
glorifying, or at least as justifying, violence. It took account of the margin of appreciation afforded to
national authorities in such cases and the reasonable amount of the fine imposed on Mr Altıntaş.
Furthermore, it was important not to minimise the risk that such writings might encourage or drive
certain young people, in particular the members or sympathisers of some illegal organisations, to
commit similar violent acts with the aim of becoming, “idols of the youth” themselves. The
expressions used had given the impression to public opinion – and in particular to people who
shared similar political opinions to those promoted by the perpetrators of the events in question –
that, in order to fulfil a purpose that those individuals regarded as legitimate in terms of their
ideology, the use of violence could be necessary and justified.

PROVISIONS

Article 6

Article 10

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Cihan Altıntaş, is a Turkish national who was born in 1984 and lives in Ankara. At the
relevant time he was the editor of the monthly periodical Tokat Demokrat, distributed in the
province of Tokat (Turkey).

In March 1972 members of two illegal organisations (Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Partisi/Cephe (THKP/C) –
Turkish People’s Liberation Party/Front; and Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Ordusu (THKO) – Turkish People’s
Liberation Army) took hostage three British nationals who were working on a NATO military base in
Ünye (Turkey). The aim of the hostage-taking was to prevent the carrying out of the death penalty
on three well-known founders of THKO. The hostages were taken to a house in Kızıldere, a village in
Tokat province, where other members of the two illegal organisations were located.

A few days later the military police laid siege to the Kızıldere house. However, the kidnappers
refused to surrender and exchanged gunfire with the police before executing their three hostages.
All but one of the insurgents were killed in the fighting.

In March 2007 an article about those events was published in Mr Altıntaş’s periodical under the
heading “M. and his friends are still living idols of the youth”. It thus described the insurgents as
“idols” and as having been “slaughtered”. A few days later he was charged with the offence of
glorifying crimes or criminals as a result of the article’s content, under Articles 215 and 218 of the
Criminal Code.

In April 2008 Tokat Criminal Court ordered Mr Altıntaş to pay a judicial fine of about 430 euros
(EUR), taking the view that the article glorified the insurgents involved in the “Kızıldere events”.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

Article 6 (right of access to a court)

The Court observed that, in many cases concerning the lack of a possibility to lodge an appeal on
points of law against a first-instance decision, it had found a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the
Convention. In the present case the Court found that Mr Altıntaş had suffered a disproportionate
restriction of his right of access to a court, of which the very essence had been impaired. There had
thus been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Article 10 (freedom of expression)

The Court observed, firstly, that Mr Altıntaş’s criminal conviction had constituted an interference
with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. This interference had pursued the following
legitimate aims: the protection of national security and public safety, the preservation of territorial
integrity and the prevention of crime.

Secondly, the article had been published in a tense social context, particularly in view of the
sensitivity of part of Turkish society regarding the “Kızıldere events”, which was likely to be
heightened among the population of Tokat owing to their geographical proximity to the site of the
incidents and to the date of publication, which marked the 35th anniversary of those events.
Thirdly, the article had described violent acts committed by individuals – at the time members of
illegal organisations – and had presented them in approving terms as heroic behaviour by “young
revolutionaries”, which was said to have made them “idols of the youth”. It had also described the
death of most of the insurgents following the armed confrontation with the police as a “slaughter”.
In the Court’s view, it was unquestionable that, notwithstanding the aim of the perpetrators of those
events – possibly regarded as legitimate by some – which had been to prevent their friends suffering
the death penalty, the acts committed against the abducted persons, who had moreover been
executed by their captors, and against the security forces, could clearly be described as violent.

Therefore the expressions used in the article about the perpetrators of the “Kızıldere events” and
their acts could be seen as glorifying, or at least as justifying, violence.

Furthermore, it was important not to minimise the risk that such writings might encourage or drive
certain young people, in particular the members or sympathisers of some illegal organisations, to
commit similar violent acts with the aim of becoming “idols of the youth” themselves.

The expressions used had given the impression to public opinion – and in particular to people who
shared similar political opinions to those promoted by the perpetrators of the acts in question –
that, in order to fulfil a purpose that those individuals had regarded as legitimate in terms of their
ideology, the use of violence could be necessary and justified.

Consequently, taking account of the margin of appreciation afforded to national authorities in such
cases and the reasonable level of the fine imposed on Mr Altıntaş, the Court found that the
impugned interference could not be regarded as incompatible with Article 10 of the Convention and
that it was not disproportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.

There had thus been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Turkey was to pay Mr Altıntaş 1,500 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

Separate opinion

Judge Bårdsen expressed a dissenting opinion, joined by Judge Pavli.


ECHRCaseLaw

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