The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court examined the individual applications of ten Academics for Peace who have been sentenced to prison on the charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" for having signed the declaration entitled "We will not be a party to this crime."
The Court has ruled that the penalization of Academics for Peace on the charge of "terror propaganda" has violated their freedom of expression.
Academics for Peace Can Candan, İsmet Akça, Ömer Turan, Nesrin Sungur-Çakmak, and Ayşe Erzan and attorneys of Academics for Peace Meriç Eyüboğlu and İnayet Aksu have spoken to bianet about the Constitutional Court ruling: "What has to happen has happened."
Verdict Given with Eight "For" and Eight "Against" Votes
The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has announced the verdict in the following words on its Twitter account:
"The decision was reached with eight 'for' and eight 'against' votes. When there is a tie, the President's vote is counted twice. Since Constitutional Court President Zühtü Arslan has voted that it was a violation, the Court found that the academics' rights were violated following today's deliberation.
"The Court decided that a copy of this judgment shall be sent to all local courts in order to eliminate this right's violation and advised for retrial. The court also ruled to pay each applicant nine thousand TRY in reparations."
The Verdict Will Affect All Trials
The verdict announced by the Constitutional Court today (26 July) will affect all trials of Academics for Peace.
With this verdict, it will be possible to hold retrials for the ones who have been convicted, to give verdicts of reversal for the cases to be heard by the court of appeal and to give rulings of acquittal in the ongoing cases.
Candan: What has to happen has happened.
Lecturer Can Candan from Boğaziçi University, whose trial is still continuing at the İstanbul 35th Heavy Penal Court, has made the following remarks regarding the Constitutional Court ruling:
"What has to happen has happened. From the very beginning, we were saying that we made a statement within the scope of freedom of expression. We are, of course, free to express what we want and this right of ours is protected by the Constitution.
"There is a three-year period of time and labor wasted. Even standing trial was, in itself, a violation of freedom of expression and I think that whoever is responsible for that has to account for it."
Akça: We are proven right at the end of the day.
Sentenced to two years, three months in prison at the 33rd Heavy Penal Court, Assoc. Prof. İsmet Akça from Yıldız Technical University has stated:
"It is what we were saying from the very beginning. The Constitutional Court has nullified both the criminal suits filed against us and the prison sentences. That the Constitutional Court has given this ruling with eight 'for' and eight 'against' votes shows the unlawfulness of the verdicts given so far.
"In addition to that, our discharge by Statutory Decrees is also null and void. What needs to be done has to be done on both fronts. The verdicts were wrong from the very beginning. We are proven to be right at the end of the day. Now, what needs to be done should be done immediately."
Turan: We have taken a tough stance.
Assoc. Prof. Ömer Turan from Bilgi University, whose trial is continuing at the İstanbul 30th Heavy Penal Court, has stated:
"The declaration that we signed perhaps has symbolic importance for the ones living in the conflict-ridden cities, but we could not manage to raise the voice of peace. The price of the process is quite unequally distributed, we have also failed to solidarize with our friends discharged by statutory decrees. But, I think we have taken a tough stance in the legal struggle.
"If we could hold firm in the slightest in Çağlayan [Courthouse in İstanbul] and in courthouses in other cities, bianet's determination, follow-up, and adoption of this struggle as its own has had a really important role in that...
"The more we read each other's defenses, the clearer we saw the importance of getting strength from our rightfulness. While we were struggling against the cases filed separately against the signatories, the ever-expanding defense archive of bianet gave strength to us all. Thanks to the whole team. And, many thanks to especially Tansu Pişkin..."
Sungur-Çakmak: I am bit bitter, but still very happy.
Sentenced to one year, three months in prison at the İstanbul 32nd Heavy Penal Court, Prof. Dr. Nesrin Sungur-Çakmak has said:
"When I think of the lives that have fallen apart, my happiness remains a bit bitter, but I am still very happy. I hope that we will receive much better news."
Erzan: All cases need to be dropped without delay.
Sentenced to one year, three months in prison, Prof. Dr. Ayşe Erzan retired from İstanbul Technical University has stated, "All cases of 'Academics for Peace' have to be dropped without delay. And all signatories discharged by statutory decrees need to be reinstated in their jobs."
Eyüboğlu: We are happy, but it is not enough.
Meriç Eyüboğlu, the attorney of several Academics for Peace, has said:
"Since academics shared the declaration with the public, the judicial process was only one of the rights violations. After three and a half years, one of the judicial authorities has finally said that 'the right to freedom of expression was used.'
"Universities have been emptied, the academics who did not withdraw their signatures were forced to resign, several academics lost their jobs, the ones who went abroad could not come back. They have been sentenced to civilian death in their own terms. With the judicial process, the threat of prison and high sentences have been added to all of these.
"This verdict has made us happy, but only one of the violations faced [by academics] has been eliminated. However, considering its result, it will only affect the cases at Heavy Penal Courts. As a matter of fact, the ones discharged for having signed the declaration need to be reinstated. As long as the decisions of discharge are not withdrawn and all rights are not restored, this verdict of violation is not enough."
Aksu: The verdict is the result of struggle.
İnayet Aksu, who is also an attorney of Academics for Peace, has also made the following remarks about the Constitutional Court ruling:
"It always happens like that. They blew wind in the political conjecture and filed these lawsuits. But, our academics took a really tough stance. They did not leave anyone alone. Around 750 defenses were made in this process and all of the defenses were demanding peace and freedom.
"This verdict of the Constitutional Court is the result of struggle. It is not a favor of the government. If you remark, the verdict has been given with eight for and eight against votes. The freedom struggle has won."
The Constitutional Court convened on 29 May to examine the applications of the academics but adjourned the meeting on the ground that the Ministry of Justice did not submit the requested opinion.
The Ministry submitted its nine-page opinion on 25 June and referred to verdicts on the definition and content of freedom of expression.
The Court convened again on 3 July and discussed whether the applicants' freedom of expression had been violated. Afterward, it decided to refer the application to the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court.
Accordingly, the Court announced its ruling today and concluded that their freedom of expression has been violated.
[This article was originally published by Bianet on 26 July 2019.]