Accountability and Supervision

Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others v Turkey, 13 February 2003 [ECtHR]

Cases nos 41340/98, 41342/98. 41343/98 and 41344/98

49.  The applicants alleged that the dissolution of Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and the temporary prohibition barring its leaders – including Mr Necmettin Erbakan, Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal – from holding similar office in any other political party had infringed their right to freedom of association, guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention ...

A. Whether there was an interference

50.  The parties accepted that Refah’s dissolution and the measures which accompanied it amounted to an interference with the applicants’ exercise of their right to freedom of association. The Court takes the same view.

B. Whether the interference was justified

51.  Such an interference will constitute a breach of Article 11 unless it was “prescribed by law”, pursued one or more of the legitimate aims set out in paragraph 2 of that provision and was “necessary in a democratic society” for the achievement of those aims.

1“Prescribed by law”

56.  The Court must first consider whether the applicants are estopped from submitting this argument, since they accepted in their additional observations to the Chamber and at the hearing before the Chamber that the measures complained of were in accordance with domestic law, and in particular with the Constitution. In its judgment the Chamber noted that the parties agreed “that the interference concerned was ‘prescribed by law’, the measures imposed by the Constitutional Court being based on Articles 68, 69 and 84 of the Constitution and sections 101 and 107 of Law no. 2820 on the regulation of political parties”.
However, the Court points out that the “case” referred to the Grand Chamber embraces in principle all aspects of the application previously examined by the Chamber in its judgment, the scope of its jurisdiction in the “case” being limited only by the Chamber’s decision on admissibility. It does not exclude the possibility of estoppel where one of the parties breaks good faith through a radical change of position. However, that has not occurred in the instant case, as the applicants presented in their initial applications the main lines of their argument on this point. They are therefore not estopped from raising the issue now (see, mutatis mutandis, K. and T. v. Finland [GC], no. 25702/94, §§ 139-41, ECHR 2001-VII; Kingsley v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 35605/97, § 34, ECHR 2002-IV; and Göç v. Turkey [GC], no. 36590/97, §§ 35-37, ECHR 2002-V).
57.  As regards the accessibility of the provisions in issue and the foreseeability of their effects, the Court reiterates that the expression “prescribed by law” requires firstly that the impugned measure should have a basis in domestic law. It also refers to the quality of the law in question, requiring that it be accessible to the persons concerned and formulated with sufficient precision to enable them – if need be, with appropriate advice – to foresee, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences which a given action may entail. Experience shows, however, that it is impossible to attain absolute precision in the framing of laws, particularly in fields in which the situation changes according to the evolving views of society. A law which confers a discretion is not in itself inconsistent with this requirement, provided that the scope of the discretion and the manner of its exercise are indicated with sufficient clarity, having regard to the legitimate aim in question, to give the individual adequate protection against arbitrary interference (see Müller and Others v. Switzerland, judgment of 24 May 1988, Series A no. 133, p. 20, § 29; Ezelin v. France, judgment of 26 April 1991, Series A no. 202, pp. 21-22, § 45; and Margareta and Roger Andersson v. Sweden, judgment of 25 February 1992, Series A no. 226-A, p. 25, § 75). The Court also accepts that the level of precision required of domestic legislation – which cannot in any case provide for every eventuality – depends to a considerable degree on the content of the instrument in question, the field it is designed to cover and the status of those to whom it is addressed. It is, moreover, primarily for the national authorities to interpret and apply domestic law (see Vogt v. Germany, 26 September 1995, Series A no. 323, p. 24, § 48).
58.  In the instant case the Court observes that the dispute under domestic law concerned the constitutionality of the activities of a political party and fell within the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court. The written law most relevant to the question whether the interference was “prescribed by law” is the Turkish Constitution.
59.  The parties did not dispute that activities contrary to the principles of equality and respect for a democratic, secular republic were undoubtedly unconstitutional under Article 68 of the Constitution. Nor did they deny that the Constitutional Court had sole jurisdiction, on an application by Principal State Counsel, to dissolve a political party which had become a centre of activities contrary to Article 68 of the Constitution. Moreover, Article 69 of the Constitution (amended in 1995) explicitly confirms that the Constitutional Court alone is empowered to determine whether a political party constitutes a centre of anti-constitutional activities. The Court notes that Refah’s MPs took part in the work of the parliamentary committee concerned and the debate in the Grand National Assembly on the 1995 amendments to the Constitution (see paragraph 11 above).
60.  Furthermore, the fact that on 12 April 1991 anti-secular activities ceased to be punishable under the criminal law is not disputed by either party. The Court notes that, as the Turkish Constitutional Court explained in its judgment of 9 January 1998, there thus resulted a divergence between the Law on the regulation of political parties and the Constitution, in that the requirement in section 103(2) of the Law on the regulation of political parties that in order for the political party concerned to constitute a “centre of anti-constitutional activities” it had to have refused to expel those of its members who had been convicted of criminal offences, taken together with the amendments to the Criminal Code of 12 April 1991, had rendered meaningless the Constitutional Court’s power to dissolve political parties which constituted centres of anti-secular activities, even though that power was clearly conferred by Articles 68 § 4 and 69 §§ 4 and 6 of the Constitution.
61.  It remains to be determined whether the applicants must have been aware of the possibility of a direct application of the Constitution in their case and could thus have foreseen the risks they ran through their party’s anti-secular activities or through their refusal to distance themselves from that type of activity, without the procedure laid down by section 103(2) of the Law on the regulation of political parties being followed.
In order to be able to answer that question, the Court must first consider the relevant particularities of the legal background against which the facts of the case took place, as set out in the judgment of the Turkish Constitutional Court and not contested by the parties. The Turkish Constitution cannot be amended by ordinary legislation and takes precedence over statute law; a conflict between the Constitution’s provisions and those of ordinary legislation is resolved in the Constitution’s favour. In addition, the Constitutional Court has the power and the duty to review the constitutionality of legislation. Where in a particular case there is a discrepancy between the provisions of the applicable statute law and those of the Constitution, as happened in the instant case, the Constitutional Court is clearly required to give precedence to the provisions of the Constitution, disregarding the unconstitutional provisions of the relevant legislation.
62.  The Court next takes into account the applicants’ status as the persons to whom the relevant legal instruments were addressed. Refah was a large political party which had legal advisers conversant with constitutional law and the rules governing political parties. Mr Necmettin Erbakan, Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal were also experienced politicians. As members of the Turkish parliament they had taken part in parliamentary discussions and procedures concerning the amendments to the Constitution, during which the Constitutional Court’s power to rule that a party had become a centre of anti-constitutional activities and the discrepancy between the new text of the Constitution and Law no. 2820 were mentioned. In addition, Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal were lawyers by profession (see paragraphs 10-11 above).
63.  That being so, the Court considers that the applicants were reasonably able to foresee that they ran the risk of proceedings to dissolve Refah if the party’s leaders and members engaged in anti-secular activities, and that the fact that the steps laid down in section 103(2) of Law no. 2820 were not taken, having become inapplicable as a result of the 1991 changes to the Criminal Code’s provisions on anti-secular activities, could not prevent implementation of the dissolution procedure required by the Turkish Constitution.
64.  Consequently, the interference was “prescribed by law”.

2. Legitimate aim

65.  The Government submitted that the interference complained of pursued several legitimate aims, namely protection of public safety, national security and the rights and freedoms of others and the prevention of crime.
66.  The applicants accepted in principle that protection of public safety and the rights and freedoms of others and the prevention of crime might depend on safeguarding the principle of secularism. However, they submitted that in pleading those aims the Government sought to conceal the underlying reasons which had led to Refah’s dissolution. In reality, they argued, this had been the aim of major business concerns and the military, whose interests were threatened by Refah’s economic policy, involving a reduction of the national debt to zero.
67.  The Court considers that the applicants have not adduced sufficient evidence to establish that Refah was dissolved for reasons other than those cited by the Constitutional Court. Taking into account the importance of the principle of secularism for the democratic system in Turkey, it considers that Refah’s dissolution pursued several of the legitimate aims listed in Article 11, namely protection of national security and public safety, prevention of disorder or crime and protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

3. “Necessary in a democratic society”


(i) General principles

(α) Democracy and political parties in the Convention system

86.  On the question of the relationship between democracy and the Convention, the Court has already ruled, in United Communist Party of Turkey and Others v. Turkey (judgment of 30 January 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-I, pp. 21-22, § 45), as follows:

“Democracy is without doubt a fundamental feature of the European public order ...

That is apparent, firstly, from the Preamble to the Convention, which establishes a very clear connection between the Convention and democracy by stating that the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms are best ensured on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of human rights ... The Preamble goes on to affirm that European countries have a common heritage of political tradition, ideals, freedom and the rule of law. The Court has observed that in that common heritage are to be found the underlying values of the Convention ...; it has pointed out several times that the Convention was designed to maintain and promote the ideals and values of a democratic society ...
In addition, Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention require that interference with the exercise of the rights they enshrine must be assessed by the yardstick of what is ‘necessary in a democratic society’. The only type of necessity capable of justifying an interference with any of those rights is, therefore, one which may claim to spring from ‘democratic society’. Democracy thus appears to be the only political model contemplated by the Convention and, accordingly, the only one compatible with it.”

87.  The Court has also confirmed on a number of occasions the primordial role played in a democratic regime by political parties enjoying the freedoms and rights enshrined in Article 11 and also in Article 10 of the Convention.
In United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, it stated that it found even more persuasive than the wording of Article 11 the fact that political parties were a form of association essential to the proper functioning of democracy (p. 17, § 25). In view of the role played by political parties, any measure taken against them affected both freedom of association and, consequently, democracy in the State concerned (p. 18, § 31).
It is in the nature of the role they play that political parties, the only bodies which can come to power, also have the capacity to influence the whole of the regime in their countries. By the proposals for an overall societal model which they put before the electorate and by their capacity to implement those proposals once they come to power, political parties differ from other organisations which intervene in the political arena.
88.  Moreover, the Court has previously noted that protection of opinions and the freedom to express them within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention is one of the objectives of the freedoms of assembly and association enshrined in Article 11. That applies all the more in relation to political parties in view of their essential role in ensuring pluralism and the proper functioning of democracy (ibid., pp. 20-21, §§ 42-43).
89.  The Court considers that there can be no democracy without pluralism. It is for that reason that freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 10 is applicable, subject to paragraph 2, not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb (see, among many other authorities, Handyside v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 7 December 1976, Series A no. 24, p. 23, § 49, and Jersild v. Denmark, judgment of 23 September 1994, Series A no. 298, p. 26, § 37). Inasmuch as their activities form part of a collective exercise of the freedom of expression, political parties are also entitled to seek the protection of Article 10 of the Convention (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, pp. 20-21, § 43).

(β) Democracy and religion in the Convention system

90.  For the purposes of the present case, the Court also refers to its case-law concerning the place of religion in a democratic society and a democratic State. It reiterates that, as protected by Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it. That freedom entails, inter alia, freedom to hold or not to hold religious beliefs and to practise or not to practise a religion (see Kokkinakis v. Greece, judgment of 25 May 1993, Series A no. 260-A, p. 17, § 31, and Buscarini and Others v. San Marino [GC], no. 24645/94, § 34, ECHR 1999-I).
91.  Moreover, in democratic societies, in which several religions coexist within one and the same population, it may be necessary to place restrictions on this freedom in order to reconcile the interests of the various groups and ensure that everyone’s beliefs are respected (see Kokkinakis, cited above, p. 18, § 33). The Court has frequently emphasised the State’s role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the exercise of various religions, faiths and beliefs, and stated that this role is conducive to public order, religious harmony and tolerance in a democratic society. It also considers that the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs (see, mutatis mutandis, Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v. France [GC], no. 27417/95, § 84, ECHR 2000-VII) and that it requires the State to ensure mutual tolerance between opposing groups (see, mutatis mutandis, Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v. Moldova, no. 45701/99, § 123, ECHR 2001-XII).
92.  The Court’s established case-law confirms this function of the State. It has held that in a democratic society the State may limit the freedom to manifest a religion, for example by wearing an Islamic headscarf, if the exercise of that freedom clashes with the aim of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, public order and public safety (see Dahlab v. Switzerland (dec.), no. 42393/98, ECHR 2001-V).
While freedom of religion is in the first place a matter of individual conscience, it also implies freedom to manifest one’s religion alone and in private or in community with others, in public and within the circle of those whose faith one shares. Article 9 lists a number of forms which manifestation of a religion or belief may take, namely worship, teaching, practice and observance. Nevertheless, it does not protect every act motivated or influenced by a religion or belief (see Kalaç v. Turkey, judgment of 1 July 1997, Reports 1997-IV, p. 1209, § 27).
The obligation for a teacher to observe normal working hours which, he asserts, clash with his attendance at prayers, may be compatible with the freedom of religion (see X v. the United Kingdom, no. 8160/78, Commission decision of 12 March 1981, Decisions and Reports (DR) 22, p. 27), as may the obligation requiring a motorcyclist to wear a crash helmet, which in his view is incompatible with his religious duties (see X v. the United Kingdom, no. 7992/77, Commission decision of 12 July 1978, DR 14, p. 234).
93.  In applying the above principles to Turkey the Convention institutions have expressed the view that the principle of secularism is certainly one of the fundamental principles of the State which are in harmony with the rule of law and respect for human rights and democracy. An attitude which fails to respect that principle will not necessarily be accepted as being covered by the freedom to manifest one’s religion and will not enjoy the protection of Article 9 of the Convention (see the opinion of the Commission, expressed in its report of 27 February 1996, in Kalaç, cited above, p. 1215, § 44, and, mutatis mutandis, p. 1209, §§ 27-31).
94.  In order to perform its role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the exercise of religious beliefs, the State may decide to impose on its serving or future civil servants, who will be required to wield a portion of its sovereign power, the duty to refrain from taking part in the Islamic fundamentalist movement, whose goal and plan of action is to bring about the pre-eminence of religious rules (see, mutatis mutandis, Yanasik v. Turkey, no. 14524/89, Commission decision of 6 January 1993, DR 74, p. 14, and Kalaç, cited above, p. 1209, § 28).
95.  In a country like Turkey, where the great majority of the population belong to a particular religion, measures taken in universities to prevent certain fundamentalist religious movements from exerting pressure on students who do not practise that religion or on those who belong to another religion may be justified under Article 9 § 2 of the Convention. In that context, secular universities may regulate manifestation of the rites and symbols of the said religion by imposing restrictions as to the place and manner of such manifestation with the aim of ensuring peaceful co-existence between students of various faiths and thus protecting public order and the beliefs of others (see Karaduman v. Turkey, no. 16278/90, Commission decision of 3 May 1993, DR 74, p. 93).

(γ) The possibility of imposing restrictions, and rigorous European supervision

96.  The freedoms guaranteed by Article 11, and by Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention, cannot deprive the authorities of a State in which an association, through its activities, jeopardises that State’s institutions, of the right to protect those institutions. In this connection, the Court points out that it has previously held that some compromise between the requirements of defending democratic society and individual rights is inherent in the Convention system. For there to be a compromise of that sort any intervention by the authorities must be in accordance with paragraph 2 of Article 11 – a matter which the Court considers below. Only when that review is complete will the Court be in a position to decide, in the light of all the circumstances of the case, whether Article 17 of the Convention should be applied (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, p. 18, § 32).
97.  The Court has also defined as follows the limits within which political organisations can continue to enjoy the protection of the Convention while conducting their activities (ibid., p. 27, § 57):

“... one of the principal characteristics of democracy [is] the possibility it offers of resolving a country’s problems through dialogue, without recourse to violence, even when they are irksome. Democracy thrives on freedom of expression. From that point of view, there can be no justification for hindering a political group solely because it seeks to debate in public the situation of part of the State’s population and to take part in the nation’s political life in order to find, according to democratic rules, solutions capable of satisfying everyone concerned.”

98.  On that point, the Court considers that a political party may promote a change in the law or the legal and constitutional structures of the State on two conditions: firstly, the means used to that end must be legal and democratic; secondly, the change proposed must itself be compatible with fundamental democratic principles. It necessarily follows that a political party whose leaders incite to violence or put forward a policy which fails to respect democracy or which is aimed at the destruction of democracy and the flouting of the rights and freedoms recognised in a democracy cannot lay claim to the Convention’s protection against penalties imposed on those grounds (see Yazar and Others v. Turkey, nos. 22723/93, 22724/93 and 22725/93, § 49, ECHR 2002-II, and, mutatis mutandis, the following judgments: Stankov and the United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden v. Bulgaria, nos. 29221/95 and 29225/95, § 97, ECHR 2001-IX, and Socialist Party and Others v. Turkey, judgment of 25 May 1998, Reports 1998-III, pp. 1256-57, §§ 46-47).
99.  The possibility cannot be excluded that a political party, in pleading the rights enshrined in Article 11 and also in Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention, might attempt to derive therefrom the right to conduct what amounts in practice to activities intended to destroy the rights or freedoms set forth in the Convention and thus bring about the destruction of democracy (see Communist Party (KPD) v. Germany, no. 250/57, Commission decision of 20 July 1957, Yearbook 1, p. 222). In view of the very clear link between the Convention and democracy (see paragraphs 86-89 above), no one must be authorised to rely on the Convention’s provisions in order to weaken or destroy the ideals and values of a democratic society. Pluralism and democracy are based on a compromise that requires various concessions by individuals or groups of individuals, who must sometimes agree to limit some of the freedoms they enjoy in order to guarantee greater stability of the country as a whole (see, mutatis mutandis, Petersen v. Germany (dec.), no. 39793/98, ECHR 2001-XII).
In that context, the Court considers that it is not at all improbable that totalitarian movements, organised in the form of political parties, might do away with democracy, after prospering under the democratic regime, there being examples of this in modern European history.
100.  The Court reiterates, however, that the exceptions set out in Article 11 are, where political parties are concerned, to be construed strictly; only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on such parties’ freedom of association. In determining whether a necessity within the meaning of Article 11 § 2 exists, the Contracting States have only a limited margin of appreciation. Although it is not for the Court to take the place of the national authorities, which are better placed than an international court to decide, for example, the appropriate timing for interference, it must exercise rigorous supervision embracing both the law and the decisions applying it, including those given by independent courts. Drastic measures, such as the dissolution of an entire political party and a disability barring its leaders from carrying on any similar activity for a specified period, may be taken only in the most serious cases (see the following judgments: United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, p. 22, § 46; Socialist Party and Others, cited above, p. 1258, § 50; and Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey [GC], no. 23885/94, § 45, ECHR 1999-VIII). Provided that it satisfies the conditions set out in paragraph 98 above, a political party animated by the moral values imposed by a religion cannot be regarded as intrinsically inimical to the fundamental principles of democracy, as set forth in the Convention.

(δ) Imputability to a political party of the acts and speeches of its members

101.  The Court further considers that the constitution and programme of a political party cannot be taken into account as the sole criterion for determining its objectives and intentions. The political experience of the Contracting States has shown that in the past political parties with aims contrary to the fundamental principles of democracy have not revealed such aims in their official publications until after taking power. That is why the Court has always pointed out that a party’s political programme may conceal objectives and intentions different from the ones it proclaims. To verify that it does not, the content of the programme must be compared with the actions of the party’s leaders and the positions they defend. Taken together, these acts and stances may be relevant in proceedings for the dissolution of a political party, provided that as a whole they disclose its aims and intentions (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, p. 27, § 58, and Socialist Party and Others, cited above, pp. 1257-58, § 48).

(ε) The appropriate timing for dissolution

102.  In addition, the Court considers that a State cannot be required to wait, before intervening, until a political party has seized power and begun to take concrete steps to implement a policy incompatible with the standards of the Convention and democracy, even though the danger of that policy for democracy is sufficiently established and imminent. The Court accepts that where the presence of such a danger has been established by the national courts, after detailed scrutiny subjected to rigorous European supervision, a State may “reasonably forestall the execution of such a policy, which is incompatible with the Convention’s provisions, before an attempt is made to implement it through concrete steps that might prejudice civil peace and the country’s democratic regime” (see the Chamber’s judgment, § 81).
103.  The Court takes the view that such a power of preventive intervention on the State’s part is also consistent with Contracting Parties’ positive obligations under Article 1 of the Convention to secure the rights and freedoms of persons within their jurisdiction. Those obligations relate not only to any interference that may result from acts or omissions imputable to agents of the State or occurring in public establishments but also to interference imputable to private individuals within non-State entities (see, for example, with regard to the State’s obligation to make private hospitals adopt appropriate measures to protect life, Calvelli and Ciglio v. Italy [GC], no. 32967/96, § 49, ECHR 2002-I). A Contracting State may be justified under its positive obligations in imposing on political parties, which are bodies whose raison d’etre is to accede to power and direct the work of a considerable portion of the State apparatus, the duty to respect and safeguard the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention and the obligation not to put forward a political programme in contradiction with the fundamental principles of democracy.

(ζ) Overall examination

104.  In the light of the above considerations, the Court’s overall examination of the question whether the dissolution of a political party on account of a risk of democratic principles being undermined met a “pressing social need” (see, for example, Socialist Party and Others, cited above, p. 1258, § 49) must concentrate on the following points: (i) whether there was plausible evidence that the risk to democracy, supposing it had been proved to exist, was sufficiently imminent; (ii) whether the acts and speeches of the leaders and members of the political party concerned were imputable to the party as a whole; and (iii) whether the acts and speeches imputable to the political party formed a whole which gave a clear picture of a model of society conceived and advocated by the party which was incompatible with the concept of a “democratic society”.
105.  The overall examination of the above points that the Court must conduct also has to take account of the historical context in which the dissolution of the party concerned took place and the general interest in preserving the principle of secularism in that context in the country concerned to ensure the proper functioning of “democratic society” (see, mutatis mutandis, Petersen, cited above).

(ii) Application of the above principles to the present case

106.  The Court will devote the first part of its examination to the question whether Refah’s dissolution and the secondary penalties imposed on the other applicants met a “pressing social need”. It will then determine, if the case arises, whether those penalties were “proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued”.

(α)  Pressing social need

The appropriate timing for dissolution

107.  The Court will first determine whether Refah could have presented a threat to the democratic regime at the time when it was dissolved.
It observes in that connection that Refah was founded in 1983, took part in a number of general and local election campaigns and obtained approximately 22% of the votes in the 1995 general election, which gave it 158 seats in the Grand National Assembly (out of a total of 450 at the material time). After sharing power in a coalition government, Refah obtained about 35% of the votes in the local elections of November 1996. According to an opinion poll carried out in January 1997, if a general election had been held at that time Refah would have received 38% of the votes. According to the forecasts of the same opinion poll, Refah could have obtained 67% of the votes in the general election likely to be held about four years’ later (see paragraph 11 above). Notwithstanding the uncertain nature of some opinion polls, those figures bear witness to a considerable rise in Refah’s influence as a political party and its chances of coming to power alone.
108.  The Court accordingly considers that at the time of its dissolution Refah had the real potential to seize political power without being restricted by the compromises inherent in a coalition. If Refah had proposed a programme contrary to democratic principles, its monopoly of political power would have enabled it to establish the model of society envisaged in that programme.
109.  As regards the applicants’ argument that Refah was punished for speeches by its members made several years before its dissolution, the Court considers that the Turkish courts, when reviewing the constitutionality of Refah’s acts, could legitimately take into consideration the progression over time of the real risk that the party’s activities represented for the principles of democracy. The same applies to the review of Refah’s compliance with the principles set forth in the Convention.
Firstly, the programme and policies of a political party may become clear through the accumulation of acts and speeches by its members over a relatively long period. Secondly, the party concerned may, over the years, increase its chances of gaining political power and implementing its policies.
110.  While it can be considered, in the present case, that Refah’s policies were dangerous for the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, the real chances that Refah would implement its programme after gaining power made that danger more tangible and more immediate. That being the case, the Court cannot criticise the national courts for not acting earlier, at the risk of intervening prematurely and before the danger concerned had taken shape and become real. Nor can it criticise them for not waiting, at the risk of putting the political regime and civil peace in jeopardy, for Refah to seize power and swing into action, for example by tabling bills in Parliament, in order to implement its plans.
In short, the Court considers that in electing to intervene at the time when they did in the present case the national authorities did not go beyond the margin of appreciation left to them under the Convention.

Imputability to Refah of the acts and speeches of its members

111.  The parties before the Court agreed that neither in its constitution nor in the coalition programme it had negotiated with another political party, the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi), had Refah proposed altering Turkey’s constitutional settlement in a way that would be contrary to the fundamental principles of democracy. Refah was dissolved on the basis of the statements made and stances adopted by its chairman and some of its members.
112.  Those statements and stances were made or adopted, according to the Constitutional Court, by seven of Refah’s leading figures, namely its chairman, Mr Necmettin Erbakan, its two vice-chairmen, Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal, three Refah members of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, Mr Şevki Yilmaz, Mr Hasan Hüseyin Ceylan and Mr Ibrahim Halil Çelik, and the mayor of the city of Konya, Mr Recai Karatepe, elected on a Refah ticket.
113.  The Court considers that the statements and acts of Mr Necmettin Erbakan, in his capacity as chairman of Refah or as the Prime Minister elected on account of his position as the leader of his party, could incontestably be attributed to Refah. The role of a chairman, who is frequently a party’s emblematic figure, is different in that respect from that of a simple member. Remarks on politically sensitive subjects or positions taken up by the chairman of a party are perceived by political institutions and by public opinion as acts reflecting the party’s views, rather than his personal opinions, unless he declares that this is not the case. The Court observes on that point that Mr Erbakan never made it clear that his statements and stances did not reflect Refah’s policy or that he was only expressing his personal opinion.
114.  The Court considers that the speeches and stances of Refah’s vice-chairmen could be treated in the same way as those of its chairman. Save where otherwise indicated, remarks by such persons on political questions are imputable to the party they represent. That applies in the present case to the remarks of Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal.
115.  Moreover, the Court considers that, inasmuch as the acts and remarks of the other Refah members who were MPs or held local government posts formed a whole which disclosed the party’s aims and intentions and projected an image, when viewed in the aggregate, of the model of society it wished to set up, these could also be imputed to Refah. These acts or remarks were likely to influence potential voters by arousing their hopes, expectations or fears, not because they were attributable to individuals but because they had been done or made on Refah’s behalf by MPs and a mayor, all of whom had been elected on a Refah platform. Such acts and speeches were potentially more effective than abstract forms of words written in the party’s constitution and programme in achieving any unlawful ends. The Court considers that such acts and speeches are imputable to a party unless it distances itself from them.
But a short time later Refah presented those responsible for these acts and speeches as candidates for important posts, such as member of Parliament or mayor of a large city, and distributed one of the offending speeches to its local branches to serve as material for the political training of its members. Before the proceedings to dissolve Refah were instituted no disciplinary action was taken within the party against those who had made the speeches concerned on account of their activities or public statements and Refah never criticised their remarks. The Court accepts the Turkish Constitutional Court’s conclusion on this point to the effect that Refah had decided to expel those responsible for the acts and speeches concerned in the hope of avoiding dissolution and that the decision was not made freely, as the decisions of leaders of associations should be if they are to be recognised under Article 11 (see, mutatis mutandis, Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP), cited above, § 26).
The Court accordingly concludes that the acts and speeches of Refah’s members and leaders cited by the Constitutional Court in its dissolution judgment were imputable to the whole party.

The main grounds for dissolution cited by the Constitutional Court

116.  The Court considers on this point that among the arguments for dissolution pleaded by Principal State Counsel at the Court of Cassation those cited by the Constitutional Court as grounds for its finding that Refah had become a centre of anti-constitutional activities can be classified into three main groups: (i) the arguments that Refah intended to set up a plurality of legal systems, leading to discrimination based on religious beliefs; (ii) the arguments that Refah intended to apply sharia to the internal or external relations of the Muslim community within the context of this plurality of legal systems; and (iii) the arguments based on the references made by Refah members to the possibility of recourse to force as a political method. The Court must therefore limit its examination to those three groups of arguments cited by the Constitutional Court.

(a) The plan to set up a plurality of legal systems

117.  The Court notes that the Constitutional Court took account in this connection of two declarations by the applicant Mr Necmettin Erbakan, Refah’s chairman, on 23 March 1993 in Parliament and on 10 October 1993 at a Refah party conference (see paragraph 28 above). In the light of its considerations on the question of the appropriate timing for dissolution of the party (see paragraphs 107-10 above) and on the imputability to Refah of Mr Necmettin Erbakan’s speeches (see paragraph 113 above), it takes the view that these two speeches could be regarded as reflecting one of the policies which formed part of Refah’s programme, even though the party’s constitution said nothing on the subject.
118.  With regard to the applicants’ argument that when Refah was in power it had never taken any concrete steps to implement the idea behind this proposal, the Court considers that it would not have been realistic to wait until Refah was in a position to include such objectives in the coalition programme it had negotiated with a political party of the centre-right. It merely notes that a plurality of legal systems was a policy which formed part of Refah’s programme.
119.  The Court sees no reason to depart from the Chamber’s conclusion that a plurality of legal systems, as proposed by Refah, cannot be considered to be compatible with the Convention system. In its judgment, the Chamber gave the following reasoning:

“70.  ... the Court considers that Refah’s proposal that there should be a plurality of legal systems would introduce into all legal relationships a distinction between individuals grounded on religion, would categorise everyone according to his religious beliefs and would allow him rights and freedoms not as an individual but according to his allegiance to a religious movement.

The Court takes the view that such a societal model cannot be considered compatible with the Convention system, for two reasons.

Firstly, it would do away with the State’s role as the guarantor of individual rights and freedoms and the impartial organiser of the practice of the various beliefs and religions in a democratic society, since it would oblige individuals to obey, not rules laid down by the State in the exercise of its above-mentioned functions, but static rules of law imposed by the religion concerned. But the State has a positive obligation to ensure that everyone within its jurisdiction enjoys in full, and without being able to waive them, the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention (see, mutatis mutandis, Airey v. Ireland,  judgment of 9 October 1979, Series A no. 32, p. 14, § 25).

Secondly, such a system would undeniably infringe the principle of non-discrimination between individuals as regards their enjoyment of public freedoms, which is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. A difference in treatment between individuals in all fields of public and private law according to their religion or beliefs manifestly cannot be justified under the Convention, and more particularly Article 14 thereof, which prohibits discrimination. Such a difference in treatment cannot maintain a fair balance between, on the one hand, the claims of certain religious groups who wish to be governed by their own rules and on the other the interest of society as a whole, which must be based on peace and on tolerance between the various religions and beliefs (see, mutatis mutandis, the judgment of 23 July 1968 in the “Belgian linguistic” case, Series A no. 6, pp. 33-35, §§ 9 and 10, and Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 28 May 1985, Series A no. 94, pp. 35-36, § 72).

(b) Sharia

120.  The Court observes in the first place that the intention to set up a regime based on sharia was explicitly portended in the following remarks cited by the Constitutional Court, which had been made by certain members of Refah, all of whom were MPs:
–  In a television interview broadcast on 24 November 1996 Mr Hasan Hüseyin Ceylan, Refah MP for the province of Ankara, said that sharia was the solution for the country (see paragraph 34 above);
–  On 8 May 1997 Mr Ibrahim Halil Çelik, Refah MP for the province of Şanliurfa, said: “I will fight to the end to introduce sharia” (see paragraph 37 above);
–  In April 1994 Mr Şevki Yilmaz, Refah MP for the province of Rize, urged believers to “call to account those who turn their backs on the precepts of the Koran and those who deprive Allah’s Messenger of his jurisdiction in their country” and asserted: “Only 39% [of the rules] in the Koran are applied in this country. Six thousand five hundred verses have been quietly forgotten ...” He went on to say: “The condition to be met before prayer is the Islamisation of power. Allah says that, before mosques, it is the path of power which must be Muslim” and “The question Allah will ask you is this: ‘Why, in the time of the blasphemous regime, did you not work for the construction of an Islamic State?’ Erbakan and his friends want to bring Islam to this country in the form of a political party. The prosecutor understood that clearly. If we could understand that as he did, the problem would be solved” (see paragraph 33 above).
121.  The Court further notes the following remarks by Refah’s chairman and vice-chairman, on their desire to set up a “just order” or “order of justice” or “God’s order”, which the Constitutional Court took into consideration:
–  On 13 April 1994 Mr Necmettin Erbakan said: “Refah will come to power and a just order [adil dozen] will be established” (see paragraph 31 above), and in a speech on 7 May 1996 he praised “those who contribute, with conviction, to the supremacy of Allah” (see paragraph 39 above);
–  While on pilgrimage in 1993 Mr Ahmet Tekdal said: “If the people ... do not work hard enough to bring about the advent of ‘hak nizami’ [a just order or God’s order], ... they will be tyrannised by [renegades] and will eventually disappear ... they will not be able to give a satisfactory account of themselves to Allah, as they will not have worked to establish ‘hak nizami’ ” (see paragraph 35 above).
122.  Even though these last two statements lend themselves to a number of different interpretations, their common denominator is that they both refer to religious or divine rules as the basis for the political regime which the speakers wished to bring into being. They betray ambiguity about those speakers’ attachment to any order not based on religious rules. In the light of the context created by the various views attributed to Refah’s leaders which the Constitutional Court cited in its judgment, for example on the question of the wearing of Islamic headscarves in the public sector or on the organisation of working hours in the civil service to fit in with the appointed times for prayers, the statements concerned could reasonably have been understood as confirming statements made by Refah MPs which revealed the party’s intention of setting up a regime based on sharia. The Court can therefore accept the Constitutional Court’s conclusion that these remarks and stances of Refah’s leaders formed a whole and gave a clear picture of a model conceived and proposed by the party of a State and society organised according to religious rules.
123.  The Court concurs in the Chamber’s view that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy, as set forth in the Convention:

“72.  Like the Constitutional Court, the Court considers that sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it. The Court notes that, when read together, the offending statements, which contain explicit references to the introduction of sharia, are difficult to reconcile with the fundamental principles of democracy, as conceived in the Convention taken as a whole. It is difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverges from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts. ... In the Court’s view, a political party whose actions seem to be aimed at introducing sharia in a State party to the Convention can hardly be regarded as an association complying with the democratic ideal that underlies the whole of the Convention.”

124.  The Court must not lose sight of the fact that in the past political movements based on religious fundamentalism have been able to seize political power in certain States and have had the opportunity to set up the model of society which they had in mind. It considers that, in accordance with the Convention’s provisions, each Contracting State may oppose such political movements in the light of its historical experience.
125.  The Court further observes that there was already an Islamic theocratic regime under Ottoman law. When the former theocratic regime was dismantled and the republican regime was being set up, Turkey opted for a form of secularism which confined Islam and other religions to the sphere of private religious practice. Mindful of the importance for survival of the democratic regime of ensuring respect for the principle of secularism in Turkey, the Court considers that the Constitutional Court was justified in holding that Refah’s policy of establishing sharia was incompatible with democracy (see paragraph 40 above).

(c) Sharia and its relationship with the plurality of legal systems proposed by Refah

126.  The Court will next examine the applicants’ argument that the Chamber contradicted itself in holding that Refah supported introducing both a plurality of legal systems and sharia simultaneously.
It takes note of the Constitutional Court’s considerations concerning the part played by a plurality of legal systems in the application of sharia in the history of Islamic law. These showed that sharia is a system of law applicable to relations between Muslims themselves and between Muslims and the adherents of other faiths. In order to enable the communities owing allegiance to other religions to live in a society dominated by sharia, a plurality of legal systems had also been introduced by the Islamic theocratic regime during the Ottoman Empire, before the Republic was founded.
127.  The Court is not required to express an opinion in the abstract on the advantages and disadvantages of a plurality of legal systems. It notes, for the purposes of the present case, that – as the Constitutional Court observed – Refah’s policy was to apply some of sharia’s private-law rules to a large part of the population in Turkey (namely Muslims), within the framework of a plurality of legal systems. Such a policy goes beyond the freedom of individuals to observe the precepts of their religion, for example by organising religious wedding ceremonies before or after a civil marriage (a common practice in Turkey) and according religious marriage the effect of a civil marriage (see, mutatis mutandis, Serif v. Greece, no. 38178/97, § 50, ECHR 1999-IX). This Refah policy falls outside the private sphere to which Turkish law confines religion and suffers from the same contradictions with the Convention system as the introduction of sharia (see paragraph 125 above).
128.  Pursuing that line of reasoning, the Court rejects the applicants’ argument that prohibiting a plurality of private-law systems in the name of the special role of secularism in Turkey amounted to establishing discrimination against Muslims who wished to live their private lives in accordance with the precepts of their religion.
It reiterates that freedom of religion, including the freedom to manifest one’s religion by worship and observance, is primarily a matter of individual conscience, and stresses that the sphere of individual conscience is quite different from the field of private law, which concerns the organisation and functioning of society as a whole.
It has not been disputed before the Court that in Turkey everyone can observe in his private life the requirements of his religion. On the other hand, Turkey, like any other Contracting Party, may legitimately prevent the application within its jurisdiction of private-law rules of religious inspiration prejudicial to public order and the values of democracy for Convention purposes (such as rules permitting discrimination based on the gender of the parties concerned, as in polygamy and privileges for the male sex in matters of divorce and succession). The freedom to enter into contracts cannot encroach upon the State’s role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the exercise of religions, faiths and beliefs (see paragraphs 91-92 above).

(d) The possibility of recourse to force

129.  The Court takes into consideration under this heading the following remarks cited by the Constitutional Court and made by:
–  Mr Necmettin Erbakan, on 13 April 1994, on the question whether power would be gained by violence or by peaceful means (whether the change would involve bloodshed or not – see paragraph 31 above);
–  Mr Şevki Yilmaz, in April 1994, concerning his interpretation of jihad and the possibility for Muslims of arming themselves after coming to power (see paragraph 33 above);
–  Mr Hasan Hüseyin Ceylan, on 14 March 1993, who insulted and threatened the supporters of a regime on the Western model (see paragraph 34 above);
–  Mr Şükrü Karatepe, who, in his speech on 10 December 1996, advised believers to keep alive the rancour and hatred they felt in their hearts (see paragraph 36 above); and
–  Mr Ibrahim Halil Çelik, on 8 May 1997, who said he wanted blood to flow to prevent the closure of the theological colleges (see paragraph 37 above).
The Court also takes into account the visit by Mr Şevket Kazan, who was then the Minister of Justice, to a member of his party charged with incitement to hatred based on religious discrimination (see paragraph 38 above).
130.  The Court considers that, whatever meaning is ascribed to the term “jihad” used in most of the speeches mentioned above (whose primary meaning is holy war and the struggle to be waged until the total domination of Islam in society is achieved), there was ambiguity in the terminology used to refer to the method to be employed to gain political power. In all of these speeches the possibility was mentioned of resorting “legitimately” to force in order to overcome various obstacles Refah expected to meet in the political route by which it intended to gain and retain power.
131.  Furthermore, the Court endorses the following finding of the Chamber:

“74.  ...

While it is true that [Refah’s] leaders did not, in government documents, call for the use of force and violence as a political weapon, they did not take prompt practical steps to distance themselves from those members of [Refah] who had publicly referred with approval to the possibility of using force against politicians who opposed them. Consequently, Refah’s leaders did not dispel the ambiguity of these statements about the possibility of having recourse to violent methods in order to gain power and retain it (see, mutatis mutandis, Zana v. Turkey, judgment of 25 November 1997, Reports 1997-VII, p. 2549, § 58).”

Overall examination of “pressing social need”

132.  In making an overall assessment of the points it has just listed above in connection with its examination of the question whether there was a pressing social need for the interference in issue in the present case, the Court finds that the acts and speeches of Refah’s members and leaders cited by the Constitutional Court were imputable to the whole of the party, that those acts and speeches revealed Refah’s long-term policy of setting up a regime based on sharia within the framework of a plurality of legal systems and that Refah did not exclude recourse to force in order to implement its policy and keep the system it envisaged in place. In view of the fact that these plans were incompatible with the concept of a “democratic society” and that the real opportunities Refah had to put them into practice made the danger to democracy more tangible and more immediate, the penalty imposed on the applicants by the Constitutional Court, even in the context of the restricted margin of appreciation left to Contracting States, may reasonably be considered to have met a “pressing social need”.

(ß) Proportionality of the measure complained of

133.  After considering the parties’ arguments, the Court sees no good reason to depart from the following considerations in the Chamber’s judgment:

“82.  ... The Court has previously held that the dissolution of a political party accompanied by a temporary ban prohibiting its leaders from exercising political responsibilities was a drastic measure and that measures of such severity might be applied only in the most serious cases (see the previously cited Socialist Party and Others v. Turkey judgment, p. 1258, § 51). In the present case it has just found that the interference in question met a ‘pressing social need’. It should also be noted that after [Refah’s] dissolution only five of its MPs (including the applicants) temporarily forfeited their parliamentary office and their role as leaders of a political party. The 152 remaining MPs continued to sit in Parliament and pursued their political careers normally. ... The Court considers in that connection that the nature and severity of the interference are also factors to be taken into account when assessing its proportionality (see, for example, Sürek v. Turkey (no. 1) [GC], no. 26682/95, § 64, ECHR 1999-IV).”

134.  The Court also notes that the pecuniary damage alleged by the applicants was made up largely of a loss of earnings and is speculative in nature. In view of the low value of Refah’s assets, their transfer to the Treasury can have no bearing on the proportionality of the interference in issue. Moreover, the Court observes that the prohibition barring three of the applicants, Mr Necmettin Erbakan, Mr Şevket Kazan and Mr Ahmet Tekdal, from engaging in certain types of political activity for a period of five years was temporary, and that, through their speeches and the stances they adopted in their capacity as the chairman and vice-chairmen of the party, they bear the main responsibility for Refah’s dissolution.
It follows that the interference in issue in the present case cannot be regarded as disproportionate in relation to the aims pursued.

4. The Court’s conclusion regarding Article 11 of the Convention

135.  Consequently, following a rigorous review to verify that there were convincing and compelling reasons justifying Refah’s dissolution and the temporary forfeiture of certain political rights imposed on the other applicants, the Court considers that those interferences met a “pressing social need” and were “proportionate to the aims pursued”. It follows that Refah’s dissolution may be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 11 § 2.
136.  Accordingly, there has been no violation of Article 11 of the Convention.

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