Turkey's top court delivers landmark ruling backing journalists’ freedom of expression
HÜRRİYET photoTurkey’s Constitutional Court has delivered a landmark ruling in favor freedom of expression, saying governments must tolerate even the toughest criticism and ordering the authorities to pay 5,000 liras in non-pecuniary losses to a columnist who had been sentenced for “insulting” MPs through the media.
Even if confirmed sentences against journalists are suspended, the situation still threatens freedom of expression, the Constitutional Court stated in a detailed ruling published in the Official Gazette on July 1.
The ruling came after an individual application filed by columnist Bekir Coşkun, who was sentenced to one year, two months and 17 days in jail on charges of “insulting a public official through the media.” The sentence was suspended, but Coşkun still took the case to the top court.
“It should be accepted that the possibility of execution of the sentence created stress and concern about being punished,” the top court added in the ruling.
The case against Coşkun was opened because of an article dated July 4, 2013 and titled “Painted Stairs.” The article was penned during the Gezi protests of June 2013, when a peaceful sit-in protesting the redevelopment of one of the few remaining green areas in the heart of Istanbul, Gezi Park, escalated into nationwide street protests involving over two million people.
“Acceptable limits to criticism of politicians are wider than acceptable limits to criticism of other people. Unlike others, a politician intentionally opens each of his or her statements and actions to the public, as well as other politicians’ scrutiny. That is why they must have a wider tolerance,” the Constitutional Court also stated.
The top court emphasized that classifying an opinion as either “valuable” or “worthless” regarding its content amounts to a “subjective judgment.”
“Trying to determine the area of freedom of expression based on these evaluations may lead to arbitrary limiting of this freedom. Freedom of expression also includes announcing and propagating thoughts that are considered ‘worthless’ or ‘useless’ by others,” it said.
“In the stated article [by Coşkun], the act of painting steps is supported, while people who object to this act are criticized,” it added.
During the Gezi demonstrations in summer 2013, painting steps between neighborhoods in rainbow colors became part of the protests after an elderly forestry engineer in Istanbul took it upon himself to repaint a set of public steps from concrete grey to an array of rainbow colors.