The Constitutional Court ruled on 26 July 2019 that the freedom of expression of 10 academics convicted of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” for signing a peace petition in 2016, entitled “We will not be a party to this crime,” has been violated.
The decision, which came as a result of a 8-8 tie that was only broken because President of the Constitutional Court was among those who voted against the convictions, is expected to set precedent for hundreds of similar trials of academics that are still ongoing.
The decision followed deliberations earlier in the day at the Plenary of the Constitutional Court on the individual applications filed on behalf of 10 academics tried and convicted on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law. Applicants included Professor Füsun Üstel, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison and had to spend more than two months behind bars before being released recently.
Concluding the deliberations late in the afternoon, the Plenary ruled that the conviction of the academics for peace for “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” violated the academics’ freedom of expression safeguarded by the Constitution. Ordering the judgment to be referred to first instance courts for a re-trial to be launched, the court also ruled that a compensation of TL 9 thousand is to be paid to each applicant.
While eight members, including the President of the Constitutional Court Zühtü Arslan, supported the finding of a violation of rights, eight members voted against the decision. Due to the top court’s traditions which declare that in the event of a tie, the decision is to be made in line with the side for which the President of the Court has opted, the judgment ended up to be in favor of the academics’ violation claims.
The finding of a violation by the Constitutional Court is now expected to set a precedent for the cases of other academics for peace whom prosecutions are ongoing. It also means that re-trial option might be available for finalized convictions, that convictions currently in the appeal process might be overturned and that the ongoing trials might end in acquittals.
According to the data compiled by Bianet, from 5 December 2017 until now the number of academics who have stood trial has reached 646. A total of 204 academics has been given prison terms. Among these academics, so far 146 academics have been sentenced to 1 year and 3 months; 18 academics to 1 year 10 months and 15 days; eight academics to 1 year and 6 months; two academics to 1 year 6 months and 22 days; 17 academics to 2 years and 3 months; seven academics to 2 years and 6 months; five academics to 2 years and 1 month; one academic to 3 years in prison.
The Constitutional Court’s First Chamber had held the first meeting concerning the applications on 29 May. The Chamber, however, adjourned its meeting citing lack of the requested opinion from the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice had presented its opinion concerning the applications on 25 June.
The First Chamber held another meeting concerning the applications on 3 July 2019, when it decided to refer the file to the Plenary saying because the judgment would set precedent for other academics cases, it should be rendered with the participation of all Court members.
The “We will not be a party to this crime” petition, which triggered the prosecutions, was announced in January 2016 by the Academics for Peace Initiative with the signatures of 1128 academics. With subsequent participations, the number of signatures surpassed two thousand.
Later, trials were launched into the academics over the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law.