Some 300,000 people have been convicted in four years in a single Kurdish-majority province of Turkey under a section of the penal code that punishes individuals for “crimes committed on behalf of an [illegal] organisation without membership”. But this section of the penal code has been recently overturned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court, according to Mehdi Özdemir, vice-president of the Diyarbakır Bar Association.
On the grounds that it was invalid under the Constitution, the Constitutional Court last week annulled the provision in question, which has frequently been debated and challenged in various court cases involving journalists, politicians and activists with the argument that it was unconstitutional.
Many political prisoners have been tried and sentenced under the provision in recent years, with the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakır (Amed), one of the cities hardest hit by the provision, and so where the effect of the annullment will be most striking when the ruling, due to take effect in four months’ time, comes into being.
According to a report by the Diyarbakır Bar Association, based on data from the Ministry of Justice, a total of 4,949 people were sentenced and 3,036 acquitted in trials that took place within the scope of this article in 2016. In 2017, the number of prosecutions increased – and the number of convictions almost quadrupled, and 14,971 people were convicted and 11,437 acquitted. The increase continued in 2018 when 108,412 people were convicted and 23,970 acquitted. In 2019, 70,848 people were convicted and 26,175 acquitted. In 2020, 44,204 people were convicted and 16,516 acquitted. According to the data, a total of 243,834 people were sentenced across Turkey between 2016 and 2020 for committing a crime on behalf of an illegal organisation without being a member of the organisation. The convictions continued in 2021 and 2022.
Speaking to Artı Gerçek news, Özdemir noted that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had previously issued numerous judgments ruling the annulled provision a violation, emphasising the Constitutional Court’s alignment with the ECHR’s view.
Özdemir stressed that the real challenge lies in the application of laws under the “anti-terror” legislation, which he described as politically motivated trials. He pointed out that the Constitutional Court, the ECHR and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe have all criticised Turkey’s entire package of anti-terror laws.
Referring to the impact of the annulled provision, Özdemir recalled prosecutions for “membership of an illegal organisation” and stressed the need for a more precise legal framework to prevent abuses in political cases.
With the decision of the Turkish Constitutional Court due to take effect in four months’ time, legal experts expect a review of ongoing cases and possible releases from prison.