The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will examine the case concerning the trial of the Gülen movement in Turkey

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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will consider the case of former teacher Yüksel Yalçınkaya, who was first fired from his job and then arrested in 2016 for alleged links to the Gülen movement.

According to a press release from the Strasbourg court, the chamber to which the Yalçınkaya case had been assigned relinquished jurisdiction in favor of the Grand Chamber on 3 May.

Yalçınkaya was found guilty of membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced to six years and three months imprisonment in 2017 by the 2nd High Criminal Court of Kayseri. The court based its decision on his alleged use of the ByLock app, his membership in a trade union and an association affiliated with the Gülen movement, and his account at Bank Asya.

The Turkish Constitutional Court also dismissed as inadmissible a petition filed by Yalçınkaya.

Following a 2016 coup attempt, the Turkish government agreed to activities such as holding an account at the now closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time; using the ByLock encrypted messaging app, which was available on the Apple App Store and Google Play; and subscribing to the daily Zaman or other publications affiliated with members of the movement, as references to identify and arrest suspected supporters of the Gülen movement accused of belonging to a terrorist organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting supporters of the Gülen Movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since corruption probes from December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, members of his family and those around him.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and a plot against his government, Erdoğan branded the movement a terrorist organization and began targeting its members. He stepped up the crackdown on the movement following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that he accuses Gülen of orchestrating. Gülen and the movement strongly deny any involvement in the failed putsch or any terrorist activity.

The UN Human Rights Committee and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) have so far reviewed a total of 18 cases involving people detained on the basis of their alleged links to the Gülen movement. In 16 of these cases, the WGAD found a Category V violation (deprivation of liberty, violation of international law, discrimination based on political or other opinions). The significance of these cases is that they highlight a clear pattern of arbitrary detention and therefore deprivation of liberty despite the lack of criminality on the part of the complainants. The cases also highlight that the complainants are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for the exercise and enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

In March 2021, the ECHR posed a series of questions to the Turkish government in the Yalçınkaya case regarding the principle of legality and no punishment without law under Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR ).

The questions included why the national judicial authorities concluded that ByLock was exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement; whether the evidence was obtained legally; the evidentiary basis of the courts having found that the claimant had used the application; and whether the petitioner’s right to have confidential communication with his lawyer has been restricted due to emergency decree measures which required the monitoring of such meetings.

Article 7 of the ECHR provides that No one may be held guilty of a criminal offense for an act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offense under national or international law at the time it was committed. This principle is an essential element of the rule of law which cannot be derogated from even in an emergency under Article 15 of the ECHR. Any criminal offense and associated penalties must be clearly defined by law, and an individual must understand from the wording of the law, and with the assistance of the courts, if necessary, the consequences of their actions and know what acts and omissions hold him criminally liable.

The latest CFS report, titled “Rule of Law (Absence) in Erdoğan’s Turkey: Violation of the Principle of Legality and No Punishment Without Law in Post-Coup Trials”, focuses on how criminal prosecutions and trials conducted for terrorism since the coup attempt are devoid of any legal basis.

Following the failed putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup struggle. More than 130,000 civil servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces have been summarily dismissed from their posts for membership or alleged relations with “terrorist organisations” by emergency decree laws subject to a neither judicial nor parliamentary control.

A total of 319,587 people have been detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against Gülen supporters since the attempted coup, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in November.

In addition to the thousands imprisoned, dozens of other supporters of the Gülen movement have had to flee Turkey to avoid government repression.

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