ECHR fines Turkey for not offering alternatives to conscientious objectors

The European Court of Human Rights has fined Turkey for violating the “freedom of conscience” by refusing to offer conscientious objector Murat Kanatlı alternative civil service options.

Duvar English

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on March 12 found Turkey guilty of violating “freedom of conscience” by not offering civil service alternatives to conscientious objector Murat Kanatlı. 

A citizen of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Kanatlı became the local representative of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection in 2008. He refused to take part in TRNC’s annual compulsory military training in 2009, 2010 and 2011 having completed his year-long compulsory military service, according to reporting by the online news outlet Serbestiyet. 

All men in Turkey must serve in the military, with a few exceptions. A sum of 182,608 liras (5600 dollars) can be paid to serve a four-week stint, while the normal duration of service ranges between 12 to 15 months for Northern Cyprus citizens.

He served a 10-day prison sentence in 2014 for “noncompliance with the mobilization call.” He appealed his conviction, which was dismissed by the Security Forces appeals court. Kanatlı applied to the ECHR in 2015 against Turkey, as the ECHR considers Northern Cyprus a local government of the Turkish Republic. Only Turkey recognizes the statehood of the Republic of Northern Cyprus. 

The Court stated in its unanimous ruling that the national legislation provided no adjustments that made it possible for conscientious objectors to perform alternative services. 

A system without any civil service alternatives could not strike a “balance between the interests of society as a whole and those of conscientious objectors.”

Ruling that Turkey has not provided any convincing counterargument, the Court has sentenced the respondent state to pay over 11,000 Euros (12,000 dollars) to Kanatlı.

A 2021 report released by Turkey's Association for Conscientious Objection examines the cases of 85 conscientious objectors, who have been fined a total of 575,517 Turkish Liras by national courts. 

In 2006, the ECHR ruled in favor of an appeal lodged by Turkish citizen Osman Murat Ülke, a conscientious objector to the mandatory military service who had been repeatedly detained as a result. 

In 2020, the Council of Europe's Ministers Committee urged Turkey to adopt legal regulations on the issue of conscientious objection, while also asking for the country to submit an action plan by Sept. 21, 2021.

Asking Turkey to stop probing or sentencing objectors, the committee stressed that all the criminal records of the objectors, whose names are included in ECHR rulings, need to be removed. 

Turkey remains the only member state in the Council of Europe that has not recognized the right to conscientious objection to military service, or at least indicated the intention of making alternative service available.