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Turkey: Court decision in university students’ Kurdish language complaint

Human rights judges have ruled that Turkey was wrong to suspend or expel seven university students who requested Kurdish language classes.

In its judgement today in the case  Çölgeçen and Others v. Turkey (nos. 50124/07, 53082/07, 53865/07, 399/08, 776/08,1931/08, 2213/08, and 2953/08), the European Court of Human Rights decide that there had been a :

Violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 on account of the disciplinary sanctions imposed on the applicants.

As just satisfaction, the court awarded EUR 1,500 to each applicant for non-pecuniary damage.

In 2001, the applicants, seven Turkish nationals of Kurdish ethnic origin who were studying at Istanbul University, requested that Kurdish language classes be introduced as an optional module.

The university initiated disciplinary investigations against them and in February 2002 they were either suspended or expelled.

These disciplinary sanctions were, however, suspended a few months later pending administrative proceedings brought by the applicants. They were all thus re-enrolled in their respective faculties and allowed to sit exams they had missed. All but one of the students graduated between 2003 and 2007.

In the meantime, in December 2002 the administrative courts annulled the disciplinary sanctions against the applicants on the ground that they were unlawful. The courts found in particular that neither the views expressed in the students’ requests nor the form in which they had been conveyed warranted such sanctions.

The applicants subsequently brought claims for compensation before the administrative courts, without success.

The courts notably rejected their claims because they considered that the university authorities had allowed the students to take repeat exams, thus compensating for the exams which they had been unable to sit when suspended or expelled.

Relying on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) read in the light of Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicants complain that expelling or suspending them from university for requesting an optional Kurdish language course had been an exaggerated response on the part of the authorities.

The applicants are Mehmet Halit Çölgeçen, Mürsel Bek, Übeyt Salim, Yavuz Uçak, Mustafa Çalışkan, Münür Ay, Ruken Buket Işık and Ali Turğay. They were born in 1977, 1978, 1977, 1981, 1981, 1980, 1982, and 1980 respectively. They lived in Hakkari (Mr Çölgeçen), Bingöl (Bek), Istanbul (Salim, Uçak, Çalışkan and Turğay), Diyarbakır (Ay) and Muş (Ms Işık) at the time their applications were lodged with the court.

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