Turkish court says sympathy not enough for terror-related charges

A Turkish higher court this week overturned the sentence of a defendant charged with membership to a terrorist organisation, saying that that acts that do not go beyond sympathy are not sufficient for conviction, Cumhuriyet reported

The conviction was related to the failed coup attempt and the defendant was accused of membership to Gülen movement, which Turkey accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016. The movement denies any involvement.

Turkish courts had accepted acts like membership to legal associations or holding an account in Gülen-linked Bank Asya as sufficient evidence for membership to Gülen group.

The appeals court ruled that acts like joining a legal association, following social media accounts, or attending demonstrations, cannot be considered evidence of membership to an armed terrorist organisation.

The higher court’s ruling said there was no sufficient evidence that the defendant had known the ultimate purpose of the group or been involved in its organisational hierarchy, and that the defendant’s acts had not gone beyond sympathy to be considered sufficient organisational activity to prove membership. 

“Guilt by association has no place in prosecuting criminal cases,” Nate Schenkkan from the Freedom House said in relation to the ruling.

Since 2016, some 77,000 people have been arrested on charges related to the failed coup and connection to the Gülen movement, while another 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others were fired or suspended from their jobs. 

The same higher court had overturned a similar conviction in November 2017 on the grounds that sympathy for the organisation, support for its ideology, possession of its publications or respect for its leader are not enough to prove membership.

A court in Ankara acquitted a defendant last week on similar charges, arguing that while the defendant’s sympathy for the organisation was evident, it did not constitute sufficient evidence of actual membership.