A coalition of 10 international press freedom and journalism organizations has intervened at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in support of a case brought by Idris Sayılgan, a Kurdish journalist from Turkey jailed since 2016 on anti-terror charges.
Sayılgan worked for the now-shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency (DİHA) before his arrest on October 7, 2016. Authorities did not inform him of the charge – membership in an armed terrorist organization – until an indictment was produced nine months later.
Sayılgan’s appeal to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, filed in July 2018, has gone unanswered. In January 2019, Sayılgan was sentenced to eight years and three months in prison.
The coalition’s intervention argues that the ECHR should not require applicants from Turkey, such as Sayılgan, to first exhaust all “domestic remedies” – proceeding through all stages of the national-level appeals process – before applying to the Court. According to the legal experts of the coalition, Turkey’s justice system, including the Constitutional Court, no longer offers an effective remedy and the insistence of the ECHR on domestic remedy in Turkey largely prevents journalists and others from obtaining any meaningful redress to fundamental rights violations suffered.
“Idris Sayılgan’s case is one of hundreds of examples of arbitrary detention and prosecution of Turkey’s journalists and the abject failure of a judicial system cowed by the political forces unleashed in 2016 to silence criticism”, IPI Turkey Programme Manager Oliver Money-Kyrle said.
Sayılgan is represented before the ECHR by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and the Turkey-based Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA). The application argues violations of Article 5 (liberty and security), 6 (fair trial), 10 (freedom of expression), 13 (effective remedy) and 18 (limitation on rights).
The intervention was submitted by the International Press Institute (IPI) on Oct. 18 on behalf of a coalition of leading press and freedom of expression organizations including Article 19, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), English PEN, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Index on Censorship, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and PEN International.
A total of 130 journalists are behind bars in Turkey. Anti-terror laws have been Turkey’s main tool of choice to prosecute the press, though journalists have been frequently held for extended periods without official charges. Indictments invariably rely on journalists’ professional work, including articles, social media posts and conversations with sources.