Application Number 24919/94

European Court of Human Rights

The applicant is a journalist who sent a speech to be read during the funeral of two of his friends who were sentenced to death for allegedly seeking to destroy the constitutional order by violence. The ECtHR found the speech to be a political criticism of the Turkish authorities rather than a call for violence and, as such, found a violation of Article 10.


Theme(s): Violence, terrorism

Date: 8 July 1999

Description of Applicant(s):  Journalist

Brief description of facts: The applicant is a journalist. In 1993, a memorial ceremony was held in Ankara for Denis Gezmiş and two of his friends. Together, they had started an extreme left-wing movement among university students at the end of the 1960s. They were sentenced to death for allegedly seeking to destroy the constitutional order by violence. The applicant was invited to speak at the ceremony, but was unable to attend and sent the organising committee the following message to be read out in public:

Excerpts of his speech included:

“The spirit of resistance and revolt of those heroic years, a nightmare for the rulers, has been with the country for more than twenty years. The socialist flag, which was borne aloft at the time and is representative of the only system capable of replacing the incumbent capitalist system, is still flying. From the seeds of liberation of the Kurdish people sown in those days the guerrilla campaign in the mountains of Kurdistan was born.”

The applicant was charged with disseminating propaganda against the unity of the Turkish nation and the territorial integrity of the state. He carried out a prison sentence and paid a fine.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Turkish State

The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The ECtHR found that the applicant’s speech was a political criticism of the Turkish authorities. The events of this case occurred after problems at the Iraq border ended and, as such, Turkey could not rely on them to limit the speech. Moreover, the Court held that the speech was read out to persons at a memorial and, thus, its capacity to harm public order was limited. The Court found that this speech did not constitute an incitement to violence, armed resistance or an uprising.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgement:

Para.47: Using words with Marxist overtones, the applicant asserted, in particular, that the Turkish Republic was “based on negation of the rights of workers and Kurds” and that its leaders had “always distinguished themselves through a cruel militarism that [was] the product of their mediocrity, backwardness, and thirst for ever more money”. He added that the revival in the 1960s of “dynamic social strata previously excluded from the political life of the country” and the “revolutionary democratic resistance movement” of the early 1970s had helped to “transform the history of the nation” and instilled in society a “spirit of resistance and revolt”. He stated that socialism was the only system capable of replacing capitalism and proclaimed that “[f]rom the seeds of liberation of the Kurdish people sown in those days were born the guerrilla in the mountains of Kurdistan.” The Government took such comments to mean that the applicant accepted the legitimacy of the Kurdish independentist cause. The Court does not share that view: it considers that the applicant’s comments constituted political criticism of the Turkish authorities, to which the use of words such as “revolt” and “oppression” added a certain virulence.

Para 49:  The Court takes into account the background to the cases submitted to it, particularly problems linked to the prevention of terrorism. On that point, it takes note of the Turkish authorities’ concern about the dissemination of views which they consider might exacerbate the serious disturbances that have been going on in Turkey for some fifteen years.

Nonetheless, it is not persuaded by the Government’s contention that special weight should be attached in the instant case to the fact that the message was delivered at a time when, taking advantage of the disorder created at the border with Iraq by the Gulf War, the PKK had been escalating its operations in south-east Turkey. Indeed, the events in the present case took place long after that conflict had ended.

Para. 50:  Furthermore, the Court observes that the applicant’s message was read out only to a group of people attending a commemorative ceremony, which considerably restricted its potential impact on “national security”, public “order” or “territorial integrity”. In addition, even though it contained words such as “resistance”, “struggle” and “liberation”, it did not constitute an incitement to violence, armed resistance or an uprising; in the Court’s view, this is a factor which it is essential to take into consideration.

ECHR Article(s): Article 10

Decision: Violation

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No