Turkey’s appeals court overturns terrorism conviction

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) has overturned the conviction of Hasan Aşa for terrorist propaganda, Mezopotamya agency reported on Friday.

Aşa had been convicted to three years in prison in 2010 over chanting “Bijî Serok Apo” (“Long Live Leader Apo”), a slogan praising the leader of armed Kurdish group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which Turkey designates a terrorist organisation.

In overturning the ruling, Yargıtay said it took into consideration the time and place the act took place in, that the protest Aşa had been part of had been peaceful and the man’s influence over the crowd.

The slogan does not have content that praises, legitimises or encourages PKK’s acts of coercion, threat or violence, the court determined, and ruled that the conditions for the crime of terrorist propaganda had not been met.

Chanting the specific slogan could instead be considered to constitute the crime of praising a criminal, as PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was convicted to life in prison in 1999, and the legal outcome would be determined based on whether it led to clear and imminent danger, the ruling said.

The lower court acquitted Aşa of both charges in the retrial.

Aşa remains in prison in the southeastern Diyarbakır province over a separate conviction to 13 years in prison for PKK membership in 2014.

Aşa is among Turkey’s thousands of sick prisoners, and has lost a finger to gangrene because of delayed treatment, Mezopotamya cited the Human Rights Association (İHD) as saying. Aşa also needs dialysis three times a week due to a loss of kidney function, but has written in previous letters to his family that he had been denied regular treatment.

The case is significant as Turkish law often harshly penalises any reference to Öcalan, with a total of 949 people convicted of propaganda charges between 2006 and 2007 for using the word “Sayın” to refer to him, according to a statement in 2008 by then-Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin. “Sayın” is used similarly to “Mr.” in Turkish, but means “esteemed”.

In a similar case, 17-year-old M.İ. was charged with terrorist propaganda and faced five years in prison for carrying a poster with Öcalan’s face on it in 2016. The minor’s court handling the case ruled to acquit him in 2017, saying the act of carrying a poster alone did not meet the criteria for the crime and should be considered within freedom of expression.