Turkish Constitutional Court has found that the right to freedom of expression of ten “Academics for Peace” signatories who have been convicted for “terrorist propaganda” charges has been violated and ruled for retrial in order to eliminate this right’s violation 

Constitutional Court’s General Secretariat has ruled that the right to freedom of expression of ten academics who have been convicted for “terrorist propaganda” charges for having signed the petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime” has been violated. Among those ten applicants was Professor Füsun Üstel, who had to go behind bars after her sentence was upheld in May. The high court ruled for retrial for these ten academics in order to eliminate this violation and decided that each applicant must be paid 9000 Turkish Liras in reparations. Once a copy of this judgement is sent to local courts and the retrial process begins, these ten academics who have previously been convicted will be acquitted. Today’s judgement will be a legal precedent for 581 academics whose trials are still ongoing.

Academics for Peace initiative published their petition titled “We will not be a party of this crime” on 10 January 2016. The academics were criticizing human rights violations in Turkey’s southeastern region; primarily curfews and military operations in Sur, Cizre, and Silopi. Initially 1128 academics were signatories but the number quickly increased to 2218 as the public support grew. President Erdoğan criticized the petition harshly, suggesting the academics to “go dig trenches, get armed, and take it up to the mountains.” Following the government’s critical stance, the judiciary did not hesitate to take action against the academics. Prosecutors in many provinces launched investigations against the signatories for “terrorist propaganda” charges and issued arrest warrants.

Following the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, 404 academics were expelled from their positions with decree laws issued during the state of emergency. As a result of the investigations ran by various prosecutors, lawsuits were filed against 785 academics. Out of the academics tried, 204 have been sentenced to prison. 164 of these sentences has been suspended and 4 has been deferred. Sentences of 36 academics were neither suspended nor deferred and 35 are still waiting for their sentences to be upheld.

Professor Füsun Üstel, who was among the signatories, was imprisoned on 9 May 2019 after 3rd Penal Chamber of the İstanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld her 1 year and 3 month prison sentence. Üstel was released on 22 July 2019, a short while before the Constitutional Court’s meeting.

During this period, ten academics whose sentences were neither suspended nor deferred had filed individual applications to the Constitutional Court. Their application noted that the academics’ freedom of expression was violated by their conviction.

The Constitutional Court’s General Secretariat merged these 10 individual applications into one file and reviewed this file during today’s meeting. The deliberations began early in the morning and went on until late in the afternoon. It was reported that members of the Court were involved in heated debates while trying to reach a judgement. At first, the vote was 8-8; according to law, in the event of a tie, the chair’s vote is counted twice. Hence, since Constitutional Court Chair Zühtü Arslan has voted for the presence of a violation, the vote ended up being 9-8. In addition to Chair Arslan, Vice Chairs Engin Yıldırım and Hasan Tahsis Gökcan have voted for the violation of the academics’ right to freedom of expression as well.

Ten academics will stand trial once again

The High Court did not settle with just this decision and ruled that a copy of this judgement shall be sent to local courts for retrial. The court also decided that each applicant shall be paid 9000 Turkish Liras (approximately 1433 Euros) in reparations.

Following this decision, all ten applicants who were included in this file will be tried once again. The local courts will have to rule for the academics’ acquittal pursuant to the Constitutional Court decision. This decision will be a legal precedent for the trials of all 785 Peace Academics who were accused of spreading terrorist propaganda.

Here is the list of 10 applicants whose freedom of expression was violated according to the Constitutional Court: Füsun Üstel, İbrahim Garip, Yasemin Gülsüm Acar, Ayda Rona Aylin Altınay Cingöz, Melda Tunçay, İzzeddin Önder, Canan Özbey, Nazlı Ökten Gülsoy, Zübeyde Gaye Çankaya Eksen and Ece Öztan.

Constitutional Court’s ruling about this violation puts the practice of expelling academics from their positions with decree laws issued during the state of emergency in a questionable state.