European court: Turkey violated free speech in PM defamation ruling

February 21, 2012, Tuesday/ 15:38:00

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey had violated the right to free speech of a journalist who was convicted for articles critical of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In 2008 a Turkish court sentenced journalist-columnist Erbil Tuşalp to pay TL 10,000, about $5,700, in compensation to Erdoğan over two articles that were published in the Birgün daily in 2004 and 2005.

Tuşalp maintained that the articles were aimed at criticizing, not insulting, the prime minister, but the court ruled that remarks made in the article went beyond the acceptable limits of criticism. The Supreme Court of Appeals also refused to hear Tuşalp’s appeal, following which he took the case to the ECtHR.

The Strasbourg court ruled that the Turkish court ruling constituted “interference with Tuşalp’s right to freedom of expression.” It maintained that the limits of acceptable criticism were greater for a politician than for a private individual and that Erdoğan is therefore obliged to display a greater degree of tolerance.

“It was true that Mr. Tuşalp had used a satirical style to convey his strong criticism. In that context, the Court underlined that the protection of Article 10 [regulating freedom of expression] was applicable not only to information or ideas that were favorably received but also to those which offended, shocked or disturbed. Consequently, the Court could not find that the strong remarks highlighted by the Turkish courts could be construed as a gratuitous personal attack against the Prime Minister,” the court said in a statement.

Under the European court ruling, Turkey is to pay 5,000 euros, about TL 11,500, to Tuşalp.

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