Thursday, 27 October 2011

Turkey, Genocide and the European Court of Human Rights

One of our colleagues in the field of genocide studies, Taner Akçam, yesterday won an important case at the European Court of Human Rights. A Chamber of the Court held that Taner had been a victim of a violation of article 10 of the European Court of Human Rights as a result of his lecturing and writing on the genocide of the Armenians.
Tanar Akcam
Taner’s latest book, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, will be published shortly by Princeton University Press. 
Taner is the author of an important book on the Armenian genocide, entitled A Shameful Act. 
A citizen of Turkey and Germany, he is currently a professor of history at Clark University in the United States.
Taner is not the first Turkish intellectual to be prosecuted for a violation of the notorious article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code which makes it an offence to denigrate ‘Turkishness’. In 2006 Taner wrote about the prosecution of Hrant Dink, an Armenian living in Turkey who was later assassinated by an extremist. Private complaints were lodged against him based on article 301, although the public prosecutor did not proceed. Before the European Court, he showed that in a four-month period in 2008 total of 116 people, 77 of whom were journalists, were prosecuted. He also claimed that the criminal complaints filed against him for his views had turned into a harassment campaign, with the media presenting him as a ‘traitor’ and ‘German spy’.
In yesterday’s judgment, the European Court said there had been an ‘interference’ with Taner’s freedom of expression. According to the ruling,
while the legislator’s aim of protecting and preserving values and State institutions from public denigration can be accepted to a certain extent, the scope of the terms under Article 301 of the Criminal Code, as interpreted by the judiciary, is too wide and vague and thus the provision constitutes a continuing threat to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. In other words, the wording of the provision does not enable individuals to regulate their conduct or to foresee the consequences of their acts. As is clear from the number of investigations and prosecutions brought under this provision …, any opinion or idea that is regarded as offensive, shocking or disturbing can easily be the subject of a criminal investigation by public prosecutors. (para. 93)
Thanks to Payam Akhavan.

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