Turkey: European Court of Human Rights again says Turkey violated human rights of conscientious objector


On 17 July, the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment in the case of Tarhan vs Turkey, again finding on a violation of article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and in addition of article 3 (prohibition of torture or inhuman treatment) of the Convention.

Mehmet Tarhan declared his conscientious objection in October 2001, and was arrested on 8 April 2005, and finally sentenced to 25 months' imprisonment on 10 October 2006 (see co-alert, 17 October 2006). However, he had been released by the court before being sentenced, on 9 March 2006, because it was unlikely that he would need to serve longer than his imprisonment until then (see co-alert, 10 March 2006). But at the same time he was given an order to present himself to his military unit on 11 March 2006, which he did not do. This means that since his release from prison, Mehmet Tarhan is officially a deserter, and at risk of arrest, though he is not hiding. In its judgment, the European Court of Human Rights also notes that Tarhan deserted on 11 March 2006 (when he failed to report to his unit).

Regarding article 3 of the European Convention, the court refered to its judgment in the case of Osman Murat Ülke from 24 January 2006, and especially mentioned its reference to "civil death", as conscientious objectors face repeated punishment, or are at risk of repeated arrest. The court also refers to the treatment of Mehmet Tarhan while in detention, mainly the cutting of his hair against his will and by force, and for these reasons finds for a violation of article 3 of the European Convention.

Regarding article 9, and similar to the judgment in the case of Halil Savda from 12 June 2012 (which the court does not cite), the court argues that because Mehmet Tarhan - who is not a religious conscientious objector - was not provided with a way to apply for conscientious objection, and therefore found for a violation of article 9 of the European Convention.

This latest judgment brings the number of recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey in conscientious objection cases to four (Demirtaş v. Turkey from 17 January 2012 and Erçep v. Turkey from 22 November 2011, Savda v. Turkey from 12 June 2012, and Tarhan v. Turkey from 17 July 2012), two of which are not on religious objectors (Savda and Tarhan).

While Turkey claims it is working on a solution to the problem (see CO-Update No 73, June-July 2012), there are concerns that these won't even come near to complying with international standards.

First Turkish conscientious objector Tayfun Gönül dies

Tayfun Gönül, Turkey's first conscientious objector to military service, passed away at the age of 54 due to a heart attack he suffered on 30 July 2012, Bianet reported. Tayfun Gönül declared his conscientious objection in 1990.

"Tayfun was an extremely interesting character. He was obsessed about military service during the period between 1988 and 1989. Our horizons broadened thanks to him, and together we launched the 'No to Mandatory Military Service' campaign," journalist Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Gönül's co-worker in Sokak Magazine during the 1980s, told Bianet News.

"As soon as we launched the campaign, [officials] filed a suit against us on the charge of 'alienating people from military service.' We kept shuttling back and forth to the Sultanahmet courthouse with him during that entire period... In fact, Metin Münir, who was at the helm of Güneş newspaper, also stood trial with us, as he had put our campaign on the paper's headline," Eryılmaz said.

"Tayfun had an uncompromising [attitude,] but he showed this not through a bellicose but an extremely gentle style. He was the person who planted the seeds of awareness against militarism in Turkey," he added.

Sources: European Court of Human Rights: AFFAIRE TARHAN c. TURQUIE, 17 July 2012; Bianet: Turkey’s First Conscientious Objector Tayfun Gönül Passes Away, 31 July 2012

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