Turkish academics, lawyer awarded for successful ECHR appeal on YouTube ban

Turkish academics, lawyer awarded for successful ECHR appeal on YouTube ban

Turkish academics, lawyer awarded for successful ECHR appeal on YouTube ban The Global Freedom of Expression Prize issued by U.S.’s prestigious Columbia University has been awarded to two academics and a lawyer from Turkey for their “excellence in legal services” after making a successful appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the grounds of censorship, after Turkey banned access to the video-sharing website. 

Professor Yaman Akdeniz, Associate Professor Kerem Altıparmak and lawyer Serkan Cengiz were awarded a freedom of expression prize, aimed to recognize international judicial decisions and legal representation furthering free speech, by the Columbia University on April 4. 

The cause of the award was a case brought before the ECHR on July 2010, “Cengiz and Others v. Turkey,” whereby the complainants argued that their right to information was violated when Turkey issued a blanket blocking order on YouTube, a platform which enables area-specific information, particularly on political and social matters. 

They also discussed that there was no provision in Turkish law allowing domestic courts to impose a blanket blocking order on a website, although the Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance decided otherwise and its decision was upheld by the Ankara Criminal Court. 

In its Dec. 1, 2015, decision, the ECHR unanimously held that Turkey had violated freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights preventing the complainants from receiving and sharing their ideas, “even though they had not been directly targeted.”

The court also held that there was no legislative provision in Turkey’s domestic law allowing for a blanket blocking order on access to YouTube, and hence, the prevention of access to the website between May 2008 and October 2010 did not meet the Convention’s criteria on lawfulness. 

The University President Lee C. Bollinger, who handed down the awards, praised the prize winners for “having demonstrated an extraordinary commitment” to defending civil liberties, access to information and freedom of expression amid a worrying global trend to diminish such legal rights.

Two of the award’s recipients, Akdeniz and Altıparkmak, were also instrumental on lifting the same block on Twitter, as they brought the case against Turkey’s Constitutional Court on March 20, 2014. The court lifted the ban on access to the social networking service 13 days after their application. 

Turkey’s Constitutional Court was also awarded the Columbia award due to three “bold judgments” in 2014, regarding the bans on Twitter and YouTube, along with its decision to annul amendments to the Turkish Internet Law No. 5651, which permitted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to block websites without a court order citing national security, public order and prevention of a crime.