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Europe rights court rules Turkish authorities violated press freedom

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment] Tuesday that Turkish authorities violated European human rights laws in shutting down four newspapers accused of publishing propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The daily publications were shut down for periods of 15 days to one month between November 2006 and October 2007 on the orders of an Istanbul court. The unanimous ruling by the ECHR found that this periodic closure was in violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], which guarantees freedom of the press in signatory states. The ECHR stated in a press release [text, PDF]

The Court held that less draconian measures could have been envisaged by the Turkish authorities, such as confiscation of particular issues of the newspapers or restrictions on the publication of specific articles. The Court held unanimously that by having suspended entire publications, however briefly, the authorities had restricted unjustifiably the essential role of the press as a public watch-dog in a democratic society, in violation of Article 10.

The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by the Turkish government and has engaged in an often violent struggle for autonomy in the Kurdish populated southeast. Since August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [BBC profile] has sought to end the 25-year conflict [BBC report], which has been a major impediment to Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU) [official website]. Last week, a European Commission found that freedom of the press remains a major concern [JURIST report] for Turkish EU accession. In May, the EC-Turkey Association Council urged [JURIST report] Turkey to improve its human rights record.

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