The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey guilty of inhuman treatment of a “Muslim objector” who declined to serve in Turkey’s military due to the country’s secular identity, while ruling that Turkey did not violate the complainant’s freedom of conscience because his objection was based on political grounds.
Enver Aydemir, the first Turkish citizen to object to military service on Muslim religious grounds, was forcefully placed in a gendarmerie unit in the northwestern province of Bilecik in July 2007. However, upon declaring his conscientious objection, Aydemir was arrested and sent to Eskişehir Military Prison.
He was then released by a military court on Oct. 4, 2007, and ordered to join his deployment. After again refusing to obey the command, he was re-arrested for military desertion on Dec. 24, 2009, and again put on trial at a military court.
The defense failed to persuade the military court, which ordered Aydemir to be sent to a hospital in Ankara
for a mental health evaluation after he was arrested in 2009.
Aydemir said hospital staff declared him “anti-social” before even giving him a proper medical examination.
In February 2010, a third set of criminal proceedings were started against him for desertion between October 2007 and December 2009, and he was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment in July 2013, although his sentence was commuted to a fine.
Aydemir said he was beaten and forced to undress and spend the night without appropriate clothing, as well as don a military uniform during pre-trial detention periods.
Aydemir filed a criminal complaint on Dec. 28, 2009, on the grounds that he had suffered ill-treatment on Dec. 24 and 25, 2009, backing up his allegations with medical reports that revealed he had healed wounds on his body.
However, Aydemir’s accusation that he was forced to spend the night without clothes or bedding was not prosecuted upon a decision by the military prosecutor’s office, leading Aydemir to complain to the ECHR that the investigation into his allegations had been lacking.
In its June 7 ruling, the ECHR found a violation of the convention’s Article 3 on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, saying the way he was treated had “undoubtedly been as such to arouse in [Aydemir] feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him.”
The court also said it was not convinced that necessary diligence had been displayed in conducting an investigation into Aydemir’s claims of being forced to spend a night undressed.
On the other hand, the court said Turkey did not violate Article 9 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as Aydemir’s rejection was not based on religious beliefs preventing him from performing military service but his political opinions against the secular Republic of Turkey.
“[Aydemir] would be able to [perform military service] under a system based on the Quran and subject to its rules,” the ECHR said, stressing Aydemir’s views did not stem from a pacifist and anti-militarist philosophy.
“Mr. Aydemir’s complaints did not involve a form of manifestation of a religion or belief through worship, teaching, practice or observance within the meaning of Article 9 § 1,” it said, adding that the relevant article was not applicable in his case.
Turkey has been ordered to pay Aydemir a total of 15,000 euros for non-pecuniary damages in addition to 3,000 euros to cover his costs and expenses.