Press Release No: Individual Application 72/20

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding a Violation of the Right to Hold Meetings and Demonstration Marches for Imposition of Administrative Fine due to Sit-in Protest

On 14 October 2020, the First Section of the Constitutional Court found a violation of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches, safeguarded by Article 34 of the Constitution, in the individual application lodged by Özkan Karataş and Others (no. 2017/31774).

The Facts

The applicants, who were dismissed from public service with Decree no. 675 issued after the coup attempt of 15 July, held a sit-in protest in front of the municipality building for days claiming that they had been subjected to injustice. The applicants were imposed administrative fines for having failed to comply with the Circular issued by the Governor’s Office during the state of emergency. The applicants' subsequent challenges against the said fines were rejected by the magistrate judge.

The Applicants’ Allegations

The applicants claimed that their right to hold meetings and demonstration marches had been violated due to the imposition of administration fines for their sit-in protest without permission during the state of emergency period.

The Court’s Assessment

In the present case, the Governor’s Office had issued a circular stipulating that in accordance with Law no. 2911, during the state of emergency, prior permission was required for any activities such as meetings and demonstration marches to be held in public areas within the provincial boundaries.

The aim sought to be achieved through the permission requirement put into effect during the state of emergency was to enable the authorities to prevent the incidents that might disturb public order and to take necessary measures in advance. However, in the present case, the administration was aware of the sit-in protest from the first day it started and that therefore, in the circumstances of the case, the applicants’ failure to seek permission was not necessarily a required element for the administration to take measures. Thus, in principle, the administration should have avoided to interfere in the impugned peaceful demonstration directly or indirectly.

In addition, nor was there any evidence that the applicants had disturbed the public order due to their acts in the public area closed to traffic.

Considering the decisions issued by the magistrate judge, it is seen that a balance was sought to be struck by referring to the Constitution and international conventions as well as the ECHR judgments. The magistrate judge paid regard to the fact that the applicants had been reminded of the Governor’s decision and its consequences in case of their non-compliance. However, the psychological effect of the applicants’ dismissal from public service under the Decree law a few months before the start of their impugned protest should also be taken into account. In this scope, the applicants' peaceful demonstration, in other words their just sitting on a bench for about seventy days, should have been tolerated in a democratic society. For this reason, a fair balance was failed to be struck in the decisions issued by the magistrate judges.

As a result, it has been concluded that the public authorities failed to demonstrate, in the circumstances of the state of emergency or based on the facts, that the public order had been disturbed or there had been a risk to that effect. In addition, imposition of multiple administrative fines for the impugned demonstration that lasted peacefully for a long time had not been proportionate.

Punishment of the applicants, who had participated in a peaceful demonstration not interfering with daily life, traffic or the public services, through the imposition of administrative fines on account of their failure to seek permission cannot be regarded as a restriction proportionate to the aim pursued during the state of emergency.

It has therefore been concluded that Article 15 of the Constitution did not justify the impugned interference which was contrary to the guarantees enshrined in Article 34 of the Constitution.

Consequently, the Court has found a violation of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches.

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