European court charges Turkey over MP stripped of seat

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for breaching the right to free elections in stripping an elected member of his seat, stressing that it had not been a proportional action.

European court charges Turkey over MP stripped of seat

The applicant, Bekir Sobacı (54), was elected in April 1999 as a member of the Turkish Parliament from a list put forward by the now-defunct Virtue Party (FP). The Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the party in June 2001 due to the actions and comments of several of its members, including the applicant.

The Constitutional Court then held that the party had become a center of anti-secular activities and that its dissolution met a pressing social need. It observed, in particular, that the FP had based its political program on the issue of the Islamic headscarf, despite the fact that in a previous judgment the court had ruled that speeches encouraging the wearing of headscarves in schools and public institutions contravened the principle of secularism. It also held that in their public speeches, members of the party had incited hatred against the public authorities by describing the prohibition of the headscarf in schools and in buildings occupied by administrative authorities as an infringement of rights and freedoms and as persecution.

As an additional penalty, the Constitutional Court ruled that the applicant and another member of Parliament should forfeit their parliamentary seats. It also banned them and three other party members from becoming founding members, ordinary members, leaders or auditors of any other political party for a period of five years.

Sobacı appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in May 2002, and the appeal was declared partly admissible in June 2006.

The court eventually asserted in its ruling on Thursday that Sobacı's "forfeiture of parliamentary office could not be regarded as proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued." The measure had impaired the very essence of the applicant's right to be elected and to sit in Parliament and had infringed on the sovereign power of the electorate who had voted him into office, the court said.

Thus, the court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights covering the right to free elections. The court also noted in its ruling that "the measure complained about had been designed to preserve the secular nature of the Turkish political system and had pursued the legitimate aims of preventing disorder and protecting the rights and freedoms of others."

"The scope of Article 69 § 6 [under which the FP was dissolved at the time] had been very broad. All acts and comments by a party's members could be attributed to the party as a whole as a basis for holding that it was a center of unconstitutional activities and dissolving it. No provision had been made for any distinction between different degrees of involvement in the activities in question. The court observed in that connection that in the applicant's case certain members of the Virtue Party, including its chairman and vice-chairman, who had been in a similar position to the applicant, had not received any penalties," stated the ruling.

"The nature and severity of interferences were also factors to be taken into account when assessing their proportionality. In that connection, the court had previously held that forfeiture of a parliamentary seat was an extremely severe penalty," the court noted.

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Aralık 2007, 14:28