The Legal Team of the Media and Law Studies Association has taken the detention of journalist Cemil Uğur to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Journalist Uğur spent 175 days in pre-trial detention together with his colleagues after reporting that Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut were tortured by security forces. In the application, it was put forward that through a politically motivated detention Uğur’s right to liberty and security (Art. 5) as well as his freedom of expression (Art. 10) were violated. Uğur’s lawyers also asked the court that via Uğur’s arrest and prolonged detention whether or not Turkey violated the Article 18th of the European Convention on Human Rights which sets limits on the use of the restriction of rights.
Mesopotamia Agency’s (MA) reporter Cemil Uğur was arrested together with his colleagues Adnan Bilen, Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala on October 9, 2020, after reporting how villagers Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut were tortured and thrown off a helicopter by soldiers in Van’s Çatak district. In the application made on behalf of Uğur, Uğur’s lawyers argued that Uğur can still claim to be a victim considering the fact the Constitutional Court did not evaluate Uğur’s application with regards to the claim that through detention, his freedom of expression as a journalist was also violated. In the application, It is asked of the Court to evaluate Uğur’s detention in relation to the Articles 5, 10 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
‘Journalist Uğur can still be considered a victim’
In the application, it was noted that journalist Uğur can still be considered a victim despite his acquittal in the case brought against him and the judgment by the Constitutional Court ruling that his detention was unlawful. Uğur’s lawyers argued that even though the Constitutional Court ruled that Uğur’s right to liberty and security was violated, the Court did not separately evaluate the complaint that Uğur’s freedom of expression was violated.
Referring to the Court’s Altuğ Taner Akcam/Turkey and Dilipak/Turkey judgments, Uğur’s lawyers argued that it constitutes a clear violation of the Article 10th of the Convention that the Constitutional Court did not evaluate Uğur’s application for the complaint that his freedom of expression was violated through detention considering the fact that Uğur’s detention was grounded solely on his activities as a journalist. Uğur’s lawyers further argued that this complaint could have been considered independent of the complaint where the Constitutional Court had found violation.
In the application, it was argued that the detention of Uğur and his colleagues had a chilling effect on the press and thereby constituted a disproportionate intervention on the freedom of the press as Uğur and his colleagues stood trial on the Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code (“membership in a terrorist organization”) even though as journalists they posed no immediate threat to public order and public safety. It was reminded of the Court that Venice Commission has found that the article in question does not meet the criteria of predictability.
‘The motivation behind the detention was to silence the journalists’
Arguing that there were motivations beyond the limitations set by the Convention behind the 175 days long detention of Uğur and his colleagues, Uğur’s lawyers reminded the Court of the statements by Süleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior who had claimed that the tortured villagers were “militias” and of the vilification campaign by the media outlets close to the government which tried to manipulate the public opinion about the journalists claiming that they reported as per orders by the terrorist organization.
Referring to the statements in the arrest order in which the prosecutor claimed that “the journalists had reported consistently, continuously and varyingly under orders from the organization” and that they were not journalists because they did not have official press cards, Uğur’s lawyers shared with the court that Uğur was the first to break the story with his news report published on September 13, 2020 on the website of Mesopotamia News Agency and that they were targeted after Uğur and his colleagues disturbed the authorities for insistently following up on the issue. Uğur’s lawyers further argued that the journalists were arrested immediately on flimsy grounds after being targeted by the authorities and the media close to the government. Arguing that the motivation behind the detention was to silence the journalists, Uğur’s lawyers asked the Court to evaluate their complaint on the violation of the Article 18th of the Convention.