Turkish authorities did not do enough to protect rights of murdered journalist, says European Court

14 September 2010 by

Dink v. Turkey (applications no. 2668/07, 6102/08, 30079/08, 7072/09 and 7124/09) – This summary is based on the European Court of Human Rights press release.

In the case of Dink v. Turkey the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the authorities failed in their duty to protect the life and freedom of expression of the journalist Firat (Hrant) Dink, a prominent member of the Armenian minority in Turkey who was murdered in 2007.

Dink was a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, and the publication director and editor-in-chief of Agos, a Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper.

Between November 2003 and February 2004 Fırat Dink published eight articles in Agos in which he expressed his views on the identity of Turkish citizens of Armenian origin. In particular, in the sixth and seventh articles of the series, he wrote that Armenians’ obsession with having their status as victims of genocide recognised had become their raison d’être, that this need on their part was treated with indifference by Turkish people and that this explained why the traumas suffered by the Armenians remained a live issue. In his view, the Turkish element in Armenian identity was both a poison and an antidote.

On 19 January 2007 Fırat Dink was killed by three bullets to the head. The suspected perpetrator was arrested in Samsun (Turkey). In April 2007 the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office instituted criminal proceedings against 18 accused. The proceedings are still pending.

Relying in particular on Article 2, the applicants other than Fırat Dink complained that the State had failed in its obligation to protect the life of Fırat Dink. Under the same provision, they alleged that the criminal proceedings brought against the State agents concerned for failing to protect the journalist’s life had been ineffective. On the latter point they also relied on Article 13. Under Article 10 in particular, they further alleged that the fact that Fırat Dink had been found guilty of denigrating Turkish identity had infringed his freedom of expression and made him a target for nationalist extremists.

Violation of Article 2 (right to life)

The Court took the view that the Turkish security forces could reasonably be considered to have been aware of the intense hostility towards Fırat Dink in nationalist circles. The investigations carried out by the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office and the Interior Ministry investigators had highlighted the fact that the police in both Trabzon and Istanbul, and the Trabzon gendarmerie, had been informed of the likelihood of an assassination attempt and even of the identity of the suspected instigators. In view of the circumstances, the threat of an assassination could be said to have been real and imminent.

There had also been a breach of Article 2 (in its “procedural aspect”), as no effective investigation had been carried out into the failures which occurred in protecting the life of Fırat Dink.

Violation of Article 10 (right of freedom of expression)

The Court shared the view of Principal State Counsel at the Court of Cassation that an analysis of the full series of articles in which Fırat Dink used the impugned expression showed clearly that what he described as “poison” had not been “Turkish blood”, as held by the Court of Cassation, but the “perception of Turkish people” by Armenians and the obsessive nature of the Armenian diaspora’s campaign to have Turkey recognise the events of 1915 as genocide.

After analysing the manner in which the Court of Cassation had interpreted and given practical expression to the notion of Turkish identity, the Court concluded that, in reality, it had indirectly punished Fırat Dink for criticising the State institutions’ denial of the view that the events of 1915 amounted to genocide.

The Court reiterated that Article 10 of the Convention prohibited restrictions on freedom of expression in the sphere of political debate and issues of public interest, and that the limits of acceptable criticism were wider for the Government than for a private individual. It further observed that the author had been writing in his capacity as a journalist on an issue of public concern. Lastly, it reiterated that it was an integral part of freedom of expression to seek historical truth. The Court therefore concluded that Fırat Dink’s conviction for denigrating Turkish identity had not answered any “pressing social need”.

The Court also stressed that States were required to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all the persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear. In a case like the present one, the State must not just refrain from any interference with the individual’s freedom of expression, but was also under a “positive obligation” to protect his or her right to freedom of expression against attack, including by private individuals. In view of its findings concerning the authorities’ failure to protect Fırat Dink against the attack by members of an extreme nationalist group and concerning the guilty verdict handed down in the absence of a “pressing social need”, the Court concluded that Turkey’s “positive obligations” with regard to Fırat Dink’s freedom of expression had not been complied with.

There had therefore been a violation of Article 10.

Damages

The Court held, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, that Turkey was to pay 100,000 euros (EUR) jointly to Fırat Dink’s wife and children and EUR 5,000 to his brother. It was also to pay EUR 28,595 to the applicants jointly for costs and expenses.

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