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CM/AS(2007)Quest531prov2E  / 16 November 2007 

Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM/AS(2007)Quest531 prov 29 October 20071
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1010 Meeting, 7 November 2007
3 Parliamentary Assembly


3.1 Written Questions by members of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Committee of Ministers

c. Written Question No. 531 by Mr Salles: “New attacks on freedom of expression in Turkey”

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Question:

Five months after the murder in Turkey of the journalist of Armenian origin, Mr Hrant Dink, his son, Mr Arat Dink, now editor-in-chief of the weekly, Agos, and Serkis Seropyan, Aydin Engin and Karin Karakashli, all journalists at Agos, have been charged with “insulting Turkish identity” under Article 301 of the Penal Code. When they appeared in court on 14 June 2007, the Istanbul Prosecutor called for sentences ranging from six months’ to three years’ imprisonment.

These developments have come about although the murder of Hrant Dink has still not been fully cleared up and proceedings have even been brought against one of the Dink family’s lawyers, Mr Erdal Dogal.

Naturally, this state of affairs gives us great cause for concern insofar as these attacks on freedom of expression are continuing and are an obstacle to the development of democracy in the country.

It also has to be said that stating that the Armenian genocide took place continues to be regarded as a criminal offence.

Moreover, in spite of the repeated calls from European institutions and from human rights organisations, Article 301 of the Penal Code remains in force as the legal provision on the basis of which these attacks on freedom of expression are carried out.

In the light of the above,

Mr Rudy Salles is disappointed that, over a year after he tabled a written question on the subject, Turkey remains in breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its commitments as a Council of Europe member state.

To ask the Committee of Ministers whether it can make sure that the Turkish authorities take all the necessary steps to ensure that freedom of expression is exercised in full, in particular by abolishing Article 301 of the Penal Code, and whether it can also ask the Commissioner for Human Rights to make representations to that effect.

Draft reply:

1. In reply to the Honourable Parliamentarian, the Committee of Ministers notes that it has frequently underlined that respect for the rights enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) is of paramount importance for the protection of media freedom throughout Europe. It recalls in this context that it emerges from the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights that a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights can result not only from a direct interference with freedom of expression by the state but also from a lack of protection of someone known to be in danger or under threat because of that person's exercise of the right to freedom of expression or as a means of preventing the exercise of that right, or a lack of effective investigation by the authorities into the killing of such a person.

2. The Committee of Ministers welcomes the condemnation by the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the murder of Mr Hrant Dink and commends his pledge to bring the perpetrators to justice. It also welcomes the immediate disciplinary and legal action taken by the Turkish authorities after reports of pictures showing the suspected murderer of Mr Dink together with some members of the Turkish security forces. The Turkish delegation has informed the Committee that currently two inquiries are being carried out following the murder of Mr Hrant Dink, in addition to a judicial inquiry, an administrative inquiry, looking into the allegations made as to the handling of the murder by certain members of the security forces. The Committee of Ministers invites Turkey to inform it about the outcome of these proceedings.

3. The Committee of Ministers notes that criminal cases have been brought under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code against Hrant Dink, his son, Arat Dink, and journalists working for the magazine Agos, resulting in acquittals in June 2007. However, other criminal proceedings brought under the same provision against Arat Dink and Agos’ licence owner, Sarkis Serkopyan, resulted in convictions on 11 October 2007 and to one year suspended prison terms by a Criminal Court in Istanbul on charges of “insult to Turkishness”. The Committee of Ministers has been informed that an appeal has been brought against the sentencing judgement, which it hopes will result in acquittals.

4. The Committee of Ministers observes that not only convictions can interfere with freedom of expression: the risk of prosecution can in itself have a deterrent effect. It further notes that cases that may infringe freedom of expression are also brought under provisions of the Penal Code other than Article 301 (notably Articles 215 and 216).

5. Further, at their 1007th DH meeting (15-17the October), in the context of their supervision of the execution of 65 Turkish cases concerning freedom of expression, the Ministers’ Deputies more particularly urged the Turkish authorities to continue their efforts to bring Turkish law fully into conformity with the Convention’s requirements and thus prevent any risk of new violations similar to those found in the present cases. They decided to resume consideration of these items at the latest at their second DH meeting in 2008 in the light of information to be provided on progress in the adoption of general and individual measures, if necessary in the light of a draft interim resolution. In this respect, the Committee of Ministers would also like to draw the Honourable Parliamentarian’s attention to the Memorandum prepared by the Secretariat (document CM/Inf/DH(2007)20 revised) entitled “Freedom of expression in Turkey: Progress achieved – Outstanding issues”, which the Deputies decided to declassify at their above-mentioned meeting.

6. The Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Honourable Parliamentarian that the issue of restrictions to freedom of expression resulting from Article 301 and other legal provisions is an important aspect of the ongoing dialogue that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights is maintaining with the Turkish authorities. It was again discussed in depth during the Commissioner's latest visit in Ankara on 21-23 October 2007, on which Mr Hammarberg is expected to report later this year.

7. The Committee of Ministers further notes that when the President of Turkey, Mr Abdullah Gül, addressed the Parliamentary Assembly on 3 October, he stated in reply to a question, that new regulations and arrangements with regard to freedom of speech were likely to be examined by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in the near future. It hopes that such steps will indeed by taken rapidly in order to align Turkey’s domestic law and practice with the requirements of Article 10 of the ECHR.

Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue; it will be declassified in accordance with Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.


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