Press Release No: Individual Application 33/20

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding a Violation of the Freedom of Communication due to the Penitentiary Institution’s Refusal to Send the Prisoner's Letter

On 10 March 2020, the First Section of the Constitutional Court found a violation of the freedom of communication safeguarded by Article 22 of the Constitution in the individual application lodged by Rıdvan Türan (no. 2017/20669).

The Facts

The applicant, who was a prisoner at the material time, wanted to send a letter to a journalist, in which he wrote the negative events he had experienced in the penitentiary institution. However, the Disciplinary Board of the Penitentiary Institution (“the Disciplinary Board”) seized twenty-nine letters, including that of the applicant, finding them inconvenient.

The applicant filed a complaint with the enforcement judge, challenging the Disciplinary Board’s decision. The applicant’s complaint and subsequent appeal were rejected respectively by the enforcement judge and the assize court.

The Applicant’s Allegations

The applicant claimed that his freedom of communication had been violated due to the penitentiary institution’s refusal to send his letter, for its allegedly inconvenient content.

The Court’s Assessment

Article 22 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the freedom of communication and that the privacy of communication is fundamental.

In cases where there are reasonable requirements in penitentiary institutions, such as prevention of crime and ensuring discipline, the rights of prisoners may be restricted.

In determining whether a fair balance has been struck as regards an interference with the freedom of communication, the reasoning of the public authorities carrying out the interference as well as of the inferior courts is of great importance.

The relevant public authorities and inferior courts are obliged to justify with relevant and sufficient grounds that the impugned interference with fundamental rights and freedoms pursued a pressing social need and was proportionate. Otherwise, such interferences would not comply with the requirements of the democratic social order.

In similar complaints, in order for the reasons submitted by the inferior courts and other public authorities to be regarded as relevant and sufficient, the elements that should be included in their decisions, which may vary in the particular circumstances of each application, can be summarized as follows:

Any interference with the letters to be sent should be explained on acceptable reasonable grounds. The reasons why the allegedly inconvenient statements endanger the security of the penitentiary institution should be justified based on concrete data. Along with the content of the letter, the addressee of the letter should also be taken into account. In the assessment of the content, the enforcement regime applied with respect to the prisoner, as well as the grounds for conviction should also be taken into consideration. Instead of the seizure of the entire letter, it should be evaluated whether it is possible to send the letter by scribbling the inconvenient statements.

In the present case, the applicant referred to the practices of the penitentiary institution in the letter he wanted to send to a journalist. However, the Disciplinary Board stated in its subsequent decision that twenty-nine letters, including that of the applicant, were found to be inconvenient and therefore seized. It was specified that all of the letters contained false statements that might panic the people or organizations; however, no reason was given as to which statements were considered inconvenient.

Accordingly, within the scope of the impugned interference, no reasonable requirement was put forth based on concrete data.

Hence, it was concluded that the interference with the applicant’s freedom of communication by seizure of the letter he wished to send had not been justified with relevant and sufficient grounds, and that therefore the impugned interference had not been necessary in a democratic society.

Consequently, the Court has found a violation of the freedom of communication safeguarded by Article 22 of the Constitution.

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.