Judgment finding a violation of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches due to imposition of disciplinary punishment for attending a press statement

Yılmaz Güneş and Yusuf Karadaş (no. 2015/10676, 26 December 2018)

The Facts

The applicants, teachers in a public school, were given reprimand, as a disciplinary punishment, for attending an event themed “Support for Education in the Mother Tongue” organized by the union of which they were member.

Upon the rejection of the applicants’ objection with the administrative authorities, the union brought actions, on behalf of the applicants, for annulment of the disciplinary punishments. The said actions were dismissed by the administrative court.

The regional administrative court rejected the appeals against the dismissal of the actions, as well as the requests for rectification of the administrative court’s decisions.

The Applicants’ Allegations

The applicants maintained that they had attended the press statement upon the call of the union by enjoying their democratic rights. However, they were imposed disciplinary punishment as a result of the said activity, which was in breach of their right to hold meetings and demonstration marches.

The Court’s Assessment

Right to hold meetings and demonstration marches is exercised collectively and provides those who want to express their thoughts with the opportunity to do so through non-violent methods. This right guarantees the manifestation, protection and dissemination of different thoughts which are requisite for the development of pluralistic societies.

In the present case, the Constitutional Court examined whether the interference with the applicants’ right to hold meetings and demonstration marches had actually met a social need and whether the interference had been proportionate to the aim pursued.

Slogans were chanted in favour of the leader of a terrorist organization during the demonstration march and the press statement organized by the union. However, there were no finding that violent acts had been carried out during the said demonstration march and press statement, that the applicants had participated in these acts or that they had been involved in the group chanting slogans.

The applicants were imposed disciplinary punishment merely for their having attended an event where the said slogans had been chanted.

Freedom of assembly of the applicants, who had attended a non-violent event, who had not chanted slogans praising terrorism and who had expressed their opinions peacefully, must be protected, even if they are public officials.

The fact that during a peaceful demonstration some persons chant slogans praising the leader of a terrorist organization by taking advantage of such a demonstration does not justify any interference with the right of assembly of all those attending the demonstration.

In such cases, public authorities are expected to distinguish between those holding a peaceful assembly and those chanting slogans praising terrorism, rather than to punish them all.

Regard also being had to the fact that the applicants who had not performed any prohibited acts had not been involved in any reprehensive incident, they should not have been imposed even a little punishment.

It was concluded that the punishment imposed on the applicants had not met a pressing social need and that the interference with their rights had not complied with the requirements of the order of a democratic society.

Consequently, the Constitutional Court found a violation of the applicants’ right to hold meetings and demonstration marches safeguarded by Article 34 of the Constitution.