A ruling today from the European court declared that Turkey’s conviction of an accountant for criticising a civil servant in a letter amounted to a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
In its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Ali Çetin v. Turkey (application no. 30905/09) the
European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned the criminal conviction of an accountant (Ali Çetin) for insulting a civil servant, as a result of comments made by Çetin in a letter relating to a professional conflict.
Çetin accused the civil servant in question of having launched a “fatwa, displaying the mentality of a Bekçi Murtaza,” when drawing up a tax audit report on the foundation which had employed Çetin.
The court held that Çetin’s conviction had amounted to a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression and that it had not been “necessary in a democratic society”.
It noted, in particular, that the criticisms had been issued in reaction to a report that had caused direct and undoubted harm to Çetin, whose employment contract had been terminated;
that Çetin had been seeking to express his personal opinions and that his statements were akin to value judgments; that the comments in question had not been part of an open discussion of matters of public concern; and that they had not been intended to be accessible to the general public but solely to the relevant domestic authorities.
The court also reiterated that even when the sanction was the lightest possible (a fine of 195 euros (EUR) in the present case), it nevertheless constituted a criminal sanction which could have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression, a risk that the relatively moderate nature of a fine would not suffice to negate.