Objectives and Activities

Yazar, Karatas, Aksoy and the Peoples’ Labour Party (HEP) v Turkey, 9 April 2002 [ECtHR]

Cases nos 22723/93, 22724/93, 22725/93

49.  On that point, the Court considers that a political party may campaign for 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 in every respect be legal and democratic, and 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 does not comply with one or more of the rules of 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, , mutatis mutandis, ocialist Party and Others v. Turkey, judgment of 25 May 1998, Reports 1998-III, pp. 1256-57, §§ 46-47, and Lawless v. Ireland (merits), judgment of 1 July 1961, Series A no. 3, pp. 45-46, § 7). (...)

56.  As to whether the HEP pursued aims that were incompatible with democratic principles, the Turkish Constitutional Court criticised the party for “seeking to divide the Turkish nation in two, with Turks on one side and Kurds on the other, with the aim of establishing separate States” and for “seeking to destroy national and territorial integrity”. The Court, like the Commission, observes that the HEP's political message amounted to claims that “citizens of Kurdish origin were not free to use their own language and were unable to make political demands based on the principle of self-determination, and the security forces campaigning against pro-Kurdish terrorist organisations were committing illegal acts and were responsible in part for the suffering of Kurdish citizens in certain parts of Turkey” (see the Commission's report of 1 March 1999, § 64).

57.  The Court accepts that the principles supported by the HEP, such as the right to self-determination and recognition of language rights, are not in themselves contrary to the fundamental principles of democracy. It likewise agrees with the Commission's reasoning that if merely by advocating those principles a political group were held to be supporting acts of terrorism, that would reduce the possibility of dealing with related issues in the context of a democratic debate and would allow armed movements to monopolise support for the principles in question. That in turn would be strongly at variance with the spirit of Article 11 and the democratic principles on which it is based.

58.  Moreover, the Court considers that, even if proposals inspired by such principles are likely to clash with the main strands of government policy or the convictions of the majority of the public, it is necessary for the proper functioning of democracy that political groups should be able to introduce them into public debate in order to help find solutions to general problems concerning politicians of all persuasions (see, among other authorities, Vogt v. Germany, judgment of 26 September 1995, Series A no. 323, p. 25, § 52, and United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, p. 27, § 57). The Court considers that it was not satisfactorily established in the judgment of 14 July 1993 by which the HEP was dissolved that the party's policies were aimed at undermining the democratic regime in Turkey (see, mutatis mutandis, Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey [GC], no. 23885/94, § 41, ECHR 1999-VIII). Nor was it argued before the Court that the HEP had any real chance of installing a regime which would not meet with the approval of everyone on the political stage (see, mutatis mutandis, United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, p. 27, § 57).

59.  Moreover, the severe, hostile criticisms made by the HEP's leaders about certain actions of the armed forces in their anti-terrorist campaign cannot in themselves constitute sufficient evidence to equate the HEP with armed groups carrying out acts of violence. The Court reiterates in this connection that the limits of permissible criticism are wider with regard to the government than in relation to a private citizen. In a democratic system the actions or omissions of the government must be subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities but also of the press and public opinion (see, mutatis mutandis, Castells v. Spain, judgment of 23 April 1992, Series A no. 236, pp. 23-24, § 46). The Court is not persuaded that by criticising the actions of the armed forces the HEP's members of parliament and officials were pursuing any other goal than that of discharging their duty to draw attention to their electors' concerns.

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