Reference: Application No. 30007/96
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Bratza (President), Bonello, Turmen, Traja, Pavlovschi, Garlicki and Mijovic
Date of judgment: 11 Jan 2005
Summary: Criminal law - Terrorism - Dissemination of propoganda - Book review - Freedom of Expression - Article 10 - Impartial and independent tribunal - Article 6
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The applicant journalist wrote an article in a newspaper reviewing four new books about social unrest in south east Turkey, including one written by the leader of the PKK, the Turkish revolutionary movement. As part of his review the applicant discussed factors which had contributed to the successes of the PKK. All copies of the newspaper containing the offending article were seized before distribution, but as a result of writing the article, the applicant was charged with disseminating propoganda about an illegal separatist terrorist organisation under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and found guilty. He was given a one-year prison sentence, suspended on appeal.
(1) Whether the applicant’s conviction was an infringement of his Article 10 rights;
(2) Whether the fact that one of the judges at the applicant’s trial was a military judge meant that he had been denied his Article 6 rights.
Unanimously finding violations of Articles 10 and 6:
(1) The Court held that although the conviction was prescribed by law and plainly in furtherance of a legitimate aim, it was disproportionate to the aims pursued and accordingly not necessary in a democratic society. The journalist was not the author of the book but a mere journalistic commentator. Freedom of expression requires that in this context care must be taken to dissociate the journalist’s personal views from those being discussed or reviewed. The conviction was for the ‘dissemination’ of propaganda, even though no copies of the article were actually distributed. The penalty was severe, even if the sentence was suspended.
(2) It was legitimate for the applicant to be apprehensive about being tried by a court including an army officer, and to fear that it might allow itself to be influenced by irrelevant considerations.
Where a conviction is based upon publication of matter that is clearly not the view of the author but rather the subject of his legitimate discussion or commentary, as was the case here (see also Jersild v Denmark (App no 15890/89)), any conviction is liable to be found to be a violation of Article 10.