Constitutional court rules Turkish academics were wrongfully charged with terror propaganda

Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that the Turkish judiciary had violated academics’ right to freedom of expression by charging them with terror offences for signing a petition for peace, opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet reported.

Some 2,200 academics signed the 2016 petition, which criticised the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army against insurgents in predominantly Kurdish cities in the country, including long curfews and the use of heavy weaponry. 

The military operations began after a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), negotiated by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, broke down in July 2015.

Under the two-year emergency rule declared following a coup attempt in 2016, hundreds of peace petitioners lost their jobs with no prospect of working again in Turkey due to the nature of their dismissal by decree. Many were also subject to travel bans and had their passports revoked.

As of January 30, 2019, 452 signatories had stood trial over charges of terrorism propaganda. 

In most of the cases, the Turkish courts sentenced academics to one year and three months in prison, but allowed them to serve the term on parole. In cases where the accused academic did not request a deferred sentence or where the court decided that the defendant had not shown remorse, longer sentences were given. 

A group of academics challenged the courts’ verdicts with an appeal to Turkey’s highest legal body, the Constitutional Court. The court said in a plenary session today that the verdicts against the academics had violated their freedom of expression. 

The court said the defendants should be retried to eliminate the violation of rights and also decided that each defendant should receive a compensation of 9,000 lira ($1,592). 

The court’s verdict was decided by 9 votes in favour of the appeal and 8 against.

The ruling is expected to serve as a precedent for ongoing trials.