Güngör and Others v. Türkiye – 59639/17 and 81 others
Judgment – 13.12.2022 [Section II]
Violation of Article 5 § 1
SUBJECT MATTER OF THE CASE
- The present applications mainly concern the arrest and pre-trial detention of the applicants in the aftermath of the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, on suspicion of their membership of an organisation described by the Turkish authorities as the “Fetullahist Terror Organisation / Parallel State Structure” (hereinafter referred to as the “FETÖ/PDY”), which was considered by the authorities to be behind the coup attempt (further information regarding the events that unfolded after the coup attempt, including the details of the state of emergency declared by the respondent Government and the ensuing notice of derogation given to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, as well as the legislative developments that followed the declaration of the state of emergency, may be found in the case of Baş Turkey, no. 66448/17, §§ 6-14 and §§ 109-110, 3 March 2020). All of the applicants were sitting as judges or prosecutors at different types and/or levels of court, at the material time, with the exception of sixteen applicants (namely, the applicants in applications nos. 66697/17, 70801/17, 76280/17, 1562/18, 2391/19, 5147/19, 14698/19, 15725/19, 26873/19, 36808/19, 39250/19, 39722/19, 40264/19, 40515/19, 41848/19 and 47694/19), who were former judges or prosecutors.
- On 16 July 2016 the Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal investigation into, inter alia, the suspected members of FETÖ/PDY within the judiciary. On various dates, the applicants were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention, mainly on suspicion of membership of the FETÖ/PDY, an offence punishable under Article 314 of the Criminal Code (see Baş, cited above, § 58). The detention orders relied principally on the nature of the alleged offence, the state of the evidence and the potential sentence. It was also noted that investigations into the coup attempt were being conducted across the country, that statements had not yet been taken from all suspects and that the alleged offence was among the “catalogue” offences listed in Article 100 § 3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) (for the text of Article 100 of the CCP, as relevant, see Baş, cited above, § 61). While there was no express mention in the detention orders, it appears from the information and documents in the files that some of the applicants had been suspended from their duties as judges or prosecutors, or their authorities revoked, prior to their detention on grounds of their membership of the organisation that was considered to have instigated the attempted coup (see Turan and Others v. Turkey, nos. 75805/16 and 426 others, §§ 13-16, 23 November 2021 for further details on the suspension procedure), or that some of them had been identified as users of the ByLock messaging system. The challenges brought by the applicants against their detention, including by reason of the alleged lack of reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence, were dismissed, including by the Constitutional Court.
- According to the latest information provided by the parties, most of the applicants were convicted of membership of a terrorist organisation by the first instance courts, and a few were acquitted. It appears that, for the most part, the appeal proceedings are still pending.
THE COURT’S ASSESSMENT
ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 5 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
5. The applicants complained that there had been no specific evidence giving rise to a reasonable suspicion, within the meaning of Article 5 1 (c) of the Convention, that they had committed a criminal offence necessitating pre-trial detention.
6. The Government urged the Court to declare this complaint inadmissible in respect of the applicants who had not made use of the compensatory remedy under Article 141 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as the applicants who had received some compensation or whose compensation claims were still pending. They further asked the Court to declare the applications inadmissible for abuse of the right of application to the extent that the applicants had not informed the Court of the developments in their cases following the lodging of their applications.
7. The Court notes that similar objections have already been dismissed in other cases against Türkiye (see, for instance, Baş, cited above, §§ 118-121, and Turan and Others, cited above, §§ 57-64), and sees no reason to depart from those findings in the present case. The Court therefore considers that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention or inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
8. The Court notes that, when ordering the applicants’ initial pre-trial detention, the magistrate’s courts sought to justify their decisions solely by making a general reference to Article 100 of the CCP and the potential sentence, as well as to “the evidence in the file”. However, in doing so, they simply cited the wording of the provision in question, without actually specifying what the evidence in question entailed and why it constituted a reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed the offence in question. The Court refers in this connection to its findings in the judgment of Baş (cited above, §§ 190-195), according to which the vague and general references to the wording of Article 100 of the CCP and to the evidence in the file cannot be regarded as sufficient to justify the “reasonableness” of the suspicion on which the applicants’ detention was supposed to have been based, in the absence either of a specific assessment of the individual items of evidence in the file, or of any information available in the file at the material time that could have justified the suspicion against the applicants, or of any other kinds of verifiable material or facts. To the extent that the detention orders may have taken into account the applicants’ suspension from judicial office or their alleged use of the ByLock messaging system, the Court notes that it has already found that neither of those grounds was of a nature to constitute “reasonable suspicion” within the meaning of Article 5 § 1 (c) in respect of the offence attributed to the applicants (compare Baş, cited above, §§ 170-195, and Akgün v. Turkey, no. 19699/18, §§ 151-185, 20 July 2021). The Court also notes that as regards some of the applicants, the Government have referred to the existence of witness statements justifying the measures in question. It observes, however, that there are no statements in the case files referring to concrete and specific facts that may have given rise to a reasonable suspicion against the applicants concerned at the material time.
9. Since the Government have not provided any other indications, “facts” or “information” capable of satisfying it that the applicants were “reasonably suspected”, at the time of their initial detention, of having committed the alleged offence, the Court finds that the requirements of Article 5 § 1 (c) regarding the “reasonableness” of a suspicion justifying detention have not been satisfied (compare Baş, cited above, § 195). It moreover considers that while the applicants were detained a short time after the coup attempt – that is, the event that prompted the declaration of the state of emergency and the notice of derogation by Türkiye –, which is undoubtedly a contextual factor that should be fully taken into account in interpreting and applying Article 5 of the Convention in the present case, the measure at issue cannot be said to have been strictly required by the exigencies of the situation (compare Baş, cited above, §§ 115-116 and §§ 196-201). It therefore concludes that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
- Decides to join the applications;
- Declares the complaint under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention, concerning the alleged lack of reasonable suspicion at the time of the applicants’ initial pre-trial detention, that they had committed an offence, admissible;
- Holds that there has been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention on account of the lack of reasonable suspicion, at the time of the applicants’ initial pre-trial detention, that they had committed an offence;
- Holds that there is no need to examine the admissibility and merits of the applicants’ remaining complaints under Article 5 of the Convention;
- that the respondent State is to pay each of the applicants, within three months, EUR 5,000 (five thousand euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and costs and expenses, plus any tax that may be chargeable on this amount, which is to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement;
- that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
With this ruling, along with the rulings in the cases of Turan and Others v. Türkiye, Acar and Others v. Türkiye, Ataman and Others v. Türkiye, Bayram and Others v. Türkiye, Geleş and Others v. Türkiye, Ulusoy and Others v. Türkiye, Sevinç and Others v. Türkiye and Moral and Others v. Türkiye the number of judges and prosecutors whose applications have been upheld by the ECtHR in their cases against Turkey has risen to 929.
Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog