Constitutional Court: Freedom of Expression of Academics for Peace Violated

Yazar / Referans: 
Tansu Pişkin, Bianet

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the penalization of Academics for Peace on charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” has violated their freedom of expression.

The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court examined the individual applications of 10 Academics for Peace who have been sentenced to prison on charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" for having signed the declaration entitled "We will not be a party to this crime."

The Court has ruled that the penalization of Academics for Peace on charge of "terror propaganda" has violated their freedom of expression.

Academics for Peace Can Candan, İsmet Akça, Ömer Turan, Nesrin Sungur-Çakmak and Ayşe Erzan and attorneys of Academics for Peace Meriç Eyüboğlu and İnayet Aksu have spoken to bianet about the Constitutional Court ruling: "What has to happen has happened."

Verdict given with 8 for and 8 against votes

The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has announced the verdict in following words on its Twitter account:

"The decision was reached with 8 for and 8 against votes. When there is a tie, the President's vote is counted twice. Since Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan has voted for violation, the Court found that the academics' rights were violated following today's deliberation.

"The Court decided that a copy of this judgement shall be sent to all local courts in order to eliminate this right's violation and advised for retrial. The court also ruled to pay each applicant 9 thousand TRY in reparations."

The verdict will affect all trials

The verdict announced by the Constitutional Court today (July 26) will affect all trials of Academics for Peace. 

With this verdict, it will be possible to hold retrials for the ones who have been convicted, to give verdicts of reversal for the cases to be heard by the court of appeal and to give rulings of acquittal in the ongoing cases.

Candan: What has to happen has happened

Lecturer Can Candan from Boğaziçi University, whose trial is still continuing at the İstanbul 35th Heavy Penal Court, has made the following remarks regarding the Constitutional Court ruling:

"What has to happen has happened. From the very beginning, we were saying that we made a statement within the scope of freedom of expression. We are, of course, free to express what we want and this right of ours is protected by the Constitution.

"There is a three-year time and labor wasted. Even standing trial was, in itself, a violation of freedom of expression and I think that whoever is responsible for that has to account for it."

Akça: We are proven right at the end of the day

Sentenced to 2 years, 3 months in prison at the 33rd Heavy Penal Court, Assoc. Prof. İsmet Akça from Yıldız Technical University has stated:

"It is what we were saying from the very beginning. The Constitutional Court has nullified both the criminal suits filed against us and the prison sentences. That the Constitutional Court has given this ruling with eight for and eight against votes shows the unlawfulness of the verdicts given so far.

"In addition to that, our discharge by Statutory Decrees is also null and void. What needs to be done has to be done on both fronts. The verdicts were wrong from the very beginning. We are proven to be right at the end of the day. Now, what needs to be done should be done immediately."

Turan: We have taken a tough stance

Assoc. Prof. Ömer Turan from Bilgi University, whose trial is continuing at the İstanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court, has stated:

"The declaration that we signed perhaps has a symbolic importance for the ones living in the conflict-ridden cities, but we could not manage to raise the voice of peace. The price of the process is quite unequally distributed, we have also failed to solidarize with our friends discharged by statutory decrees. But, I think we have taken a tough stance in the legal struggle.

"If we could hold firm in the slightest in Çağlayan [Courthouse in İstanbul] and in courthouses in other cities, bianet's determination, follow-up and adoption of this struggle as its own has a really important role in that...

"The more we read each other's defenses, the clearer we saw the importance of getting strength from our rightfulness. While we were struggling against the cases filed separately against the signatories, the ever-expanding defense archive of bianet gave strength to us all. Thanks to the whole team. And, many thanks to especially Tansu Pişkin..."

Sungur-Çakmak: I am bit bitter, but still very happy

Sentenced to 1 year, 3 months in prison at the İstanbul 32nd Heavy Penal Court, Prof. Dr. Nesrin Sungur-Çakmak has said:

"When I think of the lives that have fallen apart, my happiness remains a bit bitter, but I am still very happy. I hope that we will receive much better news."

Erzan: All cases need to be dropped without delay

Sentenced to 1 year, 3 months in prison, Prof. Dr. Ayşe Erzan retired from İstanbul Technical University has stated, "All cases of 'Academics for Peace' have to be dropped without delay. And all signatories discharged by statutory decrees need to be reinstated in their jobs."

Eyüboğlu: We are happy, but it is not enough

Meriç Eyüboğlu, the attorney of several Academics for Peace, has said:

"Since academics shared the declaration with the public, the judicial process was only one of the rights violations. After 3.5 years, one of the judicial authorities has finally said that 'the right to freedom of expression was used.'

"Universities have been emptied, the academics who did not withdraw their signatures were forced to resign, several academics lost their jobs, the ones who went abroad could not come back. They have been sentenced to civilian death in their own terms. With the judicial process, the threat of prison and high sentences have been added to all of these.

"This verdict has made us happy, but only one of the violations faced [by academics] has been eliminated. However, considering its result, it will only affect the cases at Heavy Penal Courts. As a matter of fact, the ones discharged for having signed the declaration need to be reinstated. As long as the decisions of discharge are not withdrawn and all rights are not restored, this verdict of violation is not enough."

Aksu: Verdict is the result of struggle

İnayet Aksu, who is also an attorney of Academics for Peace, has also made the following remarks about the Constitutional Court ruling:

"It always happens like that. They blew a wind in the political conjecture and filed these lawsuits. But, our academics took a really tough stance. They did not leave anyone alone. Around 750 defenses were made in this process and all of the defenses were demanding peace and freedom.

"This verdict of the Constitutional Court is the result of struggle. It is not a favor of the government. If you remark, the verdict has been given with eight for and eight against votes. The freedom struggle has won."

What happened?

The Constitutional Court convened on May 29 to examine the applications of the academics, but adjourned the meeting on the ground that the Ministry of Justice did not submit the requested opinion.

The Ministry submitted its nine-page opinion on June 25 and referred to verdicts on the definition and content of freedom of expression.

The Court convened again on July 3 and discussed whether the applicants' freedom of expression has been violated. Afterwards, it decided to refer the application to the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court.

Accordingly, the Court announced its ruling today and concluded that their freedom of expression has been violated.

About the Trials of Academics

On January 10, 2016, 1,128 academics published a declaration entitled "We will not be party to this crime" on behalf of the Academics for Peace initiative.

With the participation of further academics, the number of academics who have signed the declaration has reached 2,212.

With the indictment issued by the Prosecutor İsmet Bozkurt, lawsuits were filed against the academics on charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" as per the Article No. 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713.

As of July 26, 2019, 646 academics had stood trial since December 5, 2017, all the 204 academics whose cases were concluded have been sentenced to prison. 146 of these academics were sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison; 8 academics to 1 year and 6 months in prison; 16 academics to 1 year, 10 months and 15 days in prison; 17 academics to 2 years and 3 months in prison; seven academics have been sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison; five academics have been sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison; and one academic to 3 years in prison.

Non-deferred prison sentences for 35 people

Of these 204 people, the verdicts of conviction of 36 academics in total have not been deferred; while the verdicts of 29 people have not been deferred as their prison terms are over 2 years (as per the Article 286 of the Law on Criminal Courts, the verdicts of 7 academics have not been deferred as they did not accept the deferment of the announcement of their verdicts.

With her 15-month prison sentence upheld by the court of appeal, Academic for Peace Prof. Dr. Füsun Üstel has been arrested since May 8, 2019.

The academics given non-deferred prison sentences are as follows:

Ayşe Erzan, Özdemir Aktan, Nesrin Sungur Çakmak, Füsun Üstel, Büşra Ersanlı, Lütfiye Bozdağ, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Özgür Müftüoğlu, Yonca Demir, Gençay Gürsoy, M.A., Alper Akyüz, Ahmet Bekmen, Nihan Aksakallı, Hülya Kirmanoğlu, İsmet Akça, Haydar Durak, İlkay Özküralpli, Öznur Yaşar Diner, Remzi Orkun Güner, Esra Kaliber, Eda Aslı Şeran, Aysuda Kölemen, İlkay Yılmaz, Zeynep Tül Süalp, L.N., S.A., Gevher Gökçe, Çare Olgun Çalışkan, Nevin Zeynep Yelçe, Ali Kerem Saysel, Koray Çalışkan, S.I. Süreyya Topaloğlu, Ayşe Gül Altınay, Noemi Levy Aksu.

You can reach all news on Trials of Academics here

On March 10, 2016, the Academics for Peace made a statement for press and shared with the public what they had been going through since the declaration "We will not be a party to this crime" was published. The academics Dr. Lecturer Esra Mungan, Dr. Lecturer Muzaffer Kaya, Assoc. Prof. Dr Kıvanç Ersoy (March 15, 2016) and Dr. Lecturer Meral Camcı (March 31, 2016), who read out the statement for press, were arrested on charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" as per the Article No. 7/2 of the Turkish Anti-Terror Law. They were released on April 2016. Upon the request of the Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Justice granted a permission of trial as per the Article No. 301 of the Turkish Penal Code No. 301 on charges of "insulting the Turkish Nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey and the institutions and organs of the government."

You can reach the statements of Academics for Peace in English here