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ECHR condemns 1997 ruling against journalist, legitimizes punishment of former mayor for "inciting hatred" in speeches

(BIANET/IFEX) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has heard the appeals of former Kayseri mayor Sükrü Karatepe, who had been convicted of "inciting hatred and hostility" and of Ziya Ulusoy, a journalist who had been sentenced to 16 months imprisonment. Both appeals were based on Article 6/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and claimed that there had not been a fair trial. The court decreed that Ulusoy's punishment was unfounded. However, Karatepe's penalisation has been found legitimate.

The ECHR has decreed that Turkey did not limit the freedom of expression of the former mayor of Kayseri (central Anatolia) when it punished him for "inciting hatred and hostility" in several of his speeches.

On 9 October 1997, Karatepe was sentenced to one year in prison and fined by the Ankara State Security Court for "spreading hatred and hostility by pointing to differences in religion" in speeches made in October and November 1996 while in office. Karatepe was removed from his office in February 1998 and arrested on 24 April 1998.

Karatepe, a member of the Welfare Party (RP), was given a conditional release on 17 September 1998.

While the ECHR acknowledged that the army members of the state security courts made fair trials less likely, and that this was incongruous with Article 6/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it found that Karatepe's punishment was not excessive, considering the aim of preventing the incitement to crime.

Voting six to one, the ECHR decreed that the sentence did not violate Article 10 of the convention and denied Karatepe the right to compensation. It also ordered the former mayor to pay 500 Euros for court expenses.

In contrast, in the Ulusoy case, the ECHR decreed that Turkey had violated the journalist's right to freedom of expression and that the trial had been unfair.

Ulusoy was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment in April 1997 for an article about the Sivas massacre, referring to a 1993 incident during which 37 Alevi intellectuals died in a hotel that had been set on fire.

The ECHR decreed that Ulusoy's right to freedom of expression had been limited without foundation and in a matter unfitting for a democratic society. Because Ulusoy had not specified an amount, the ECHR did not call for a payment of compensation. It announced that, according to the convention's policies on cases heard by courts that were not neutral or independent, the file would be reconsidered if Ulusoy should demand compensation.

Ulusoy had been convicted for criticising the state's and the security forces' indifference to the murder of the 37 people in the 1993 fire at the Madimak Hotel, as well as for criticising the state's policies on the Kurdish issue.

Turkey had interpreted Ulusoy's use of the term "Kurdistan" as referring to one part of Turkish territory and the term "National Liberation Movement" as "separatist propaganda".

The ECHR argued that this evaluation did not legitimise the punishment that Ulusoy was given. Because the article did not call for armed resistance or rebellion and did not contain any discourses of hatred, the punishment was found excessive.

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