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European Court rules against Turkey in case brought by two journalists

July 11, 2014

RWB reiterates call for an end to all proceedings against Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener

Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s European Court of Human Rights ruling that Turkey violated the rights of two journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, by keeping them in pre-trial detention for more than a year in 2011 and 2012 without “relevant” or “sufficient” grounds.

The court has ordered the Turkish authorities to pay 10,000 euros to Sik and 20,000 euros to Sener in compensation for this latest breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey ratified in 1954.

Arrested on 5 March 2011 for supposedly helping an ultra-nationalist network called Ergenekon to prepare a coup d’état, the two journalists were formally charged with “belonging to a terrorist organization” although all they did was accuse the government of using the case to persecute opposition and independent critics. They were finally released provisionally on 12 March 2012, after just over a year in detention.

The European Court found Turkey guilty of violating their “right to liberty and security” (article 5 § 3 of the Convention) by keeping them in pre-trial detention for more than a year in the absence of “detailed reasons.” It also found them guilty of denying their lawyers access to certain documents needed for their defence.

The court pointed out that, under Turkey’s code of criminal procedure, the main offence allegedly committed by Sik and Sener, “bringing pressure to bear on the judicial authorities in charge of a criminal investigation,” does not offer grounds for preventive detention.

Their prolonged pre-trial detention constituted a violation of freedom of expression, with the deterrent effect likely to create “a climate of self-censorship for any investigative journalist wishing to conduct research and comment on the conduct and actions of state bodies,” the court also ruled.

“This ruling is a step towards long-awaited justice for Sik and Sener,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk."

“It recognizes the absurd and abusive character of their detention and the shock-wave it sent through the entire media community. The European Court has also again stressed the structural abuses of the Turkish justice system, which still instinctively puts security concerns first, despite recent reforms.”

The arbitrary arrest of Sik and Sener marked a turning point in the Ergenekon case, triggering an unprecedented wave of protests both in Turkey and abroad. It was seen as a symbol of the judicial system’s paranoid attitude towards the media and its systematic abuse of pre-trial detention.

Reporters Without Borders devoted a report to the case in June 2011 and attended most of the hearings.

The trial is still under way, with Sik and Sener still facing a possible 15-year jail sentences for revealing information about the Ergenekon case that was of public interest.

Reporters Without Borders stresses that the court’s ruling effectively invalidates the charges of “serious terrorist offences” brought against Sik and Sener. By making it clear that the main accusation against them was defamation, and by distinguishing this from “the crimes of belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation,” the court has confirmed the absurdity of these charges.

RWB therefore calls on the authorities to drop all the proceedings against them.

Sik was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in May 2014. Sener was awarded the International Press Institute prize in 2010.

Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

For more information contact:
Reporters Without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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