Press Release No: Individual Application 42/22

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding a Violation of the Freedom of Expression due to the Compensation Awarded against the Applicant on account of His Expressions towards the Minister of Foreign Affairs

On 22 February 2022, the First Section of the Constitutional Court found a violation of the freedom of expression safeguarded by Article 26 of the Constitution in the individual application lodged by Mustafa Hidayet Vahapoğlu (no. 2019/19608).

The Facts

The applicant, a politician, used certain unfavourable expressions towards the then minister of foreign affairs during a fast-breaking meal organised by the political party of which he was a member, where he was directing criticisms towards the Government.

The Minister A.D. (the plaintiff) brought an action for non-pecuniary damages amounting to 10,000 Turkish liras (“TRY”) before the incumbent civil court on the allegation that the applicant had infringed his personal rights on account of his expressions. The civil court, partially accepting the action, ordered the applicant to pay the plaintiff TRY 2,000 as compensation. In its reasoning, the civil court stated that the impugned expressions exceeded the limits of criticism, that as was the case for any type of criticism, political criticisms must not exceed the acceptable limits of criticism and must not be directed at the personal rights, and that however, the impugned expressions amounted to defamation. The first instance decision, which had been appealed, became final upon being upheld by the Court of Cassation.

The Applicant’s Allegations

The applicant maintained that the award of compensation against him on account of his expressions towards the minister of foreign affairs had been in breach of his freedom of expression. 

The Court’s Assessment

It has been observed that in the present case, the civil court had extracted the impugned expression from the text as a whole. However, in ascertaining whether any restriction has been in breach of the freedom of expression, the inferior courts must consider the impugned expressions in the light of the whole text, without extracting them from the context.

It should not be also disregarded that the impugned speech was addressed by a politician, member of an opposition party, to a limited number of guests, who were also members of the same party. The applicant aimed to gain an advantage in the political arena by targeting the ruling party and the plaintiff, who was a member of the ruling party, as well as to thereby motivate the members of his own party. At this point, it should be accepted that the expressions used by the politicians towards each other are a part of their political style that is intended to obviously create polemics, trigger aggressive reactions and consolidate its followers.

It should be also borne in mind that any disturbances regarding the issues of general interest and undoubtedly contributing to a public debate may be voiced merely in democratic regimes, where views and thoughts may be expressed without any obstacle being faced.

It is evident that the freedom of expression is of particular importance for the elected members of the parliament, who represent the voters, voice their requests, concerns and views in the political arena and stand up for their interests. Therefore, if the interference is directed at the freedom of expression enjoyed by a politician and especially a member of the opposition party, the applications should be subject to a very strict scrutiny. In addition, as the incidents giving rise to the present application were related to the politicians, acting as a public figure, the acceptable limits of criticism are wider compared to the limits applicable for ordinary persons. Therefore, the plaintiff should have shown more tolerance towards the impugned criticisms compared to those directed at the ordinary persons.

The civil court failed to strike a balance between the applicant’s freedom of expression and the plaintiff’s right to honour and dignity. The grounds relied on by the civil court in ordering the applicant to pay compensation cannot be regarded as relevant and sufficient reasons to justify the impugned interference with his freedom of expression. It has been thus concluded that the compensation awarded against the applicant did not meet a pressing social need.

Consequently, the Court has found a violation of the freedom of expression.  

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