In what appears to be a major victory for freedom of expression in Turkey, a top appeals court in Ankara has overturned a decision to jail two Kurdish politicians for referring to Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as "sayin," a Turkish honorific that means both "mister" and "esteemed."
Hatip Dicle and Selim Dadak, members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), were each sentenced to six years in prison after a lower court decided that they had "praised a terrorist organization" by referring to Ocalan as "mister" in interviews. But the Supreme Court of Appeals recently overruled that verdict, arguing that using that expression is protected by Turkey's constitution and -- more significantly, as human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz points out -- by the European Convention on Human Rights and precedents set forth by the European Court of Human Rights. Reports HaberTurk:
The high court called for an holistic interpretation of the interview, and stated that the phrases were covered by the article 26 of the Constitution as well as the article 10 of the ECHR.
The preamble for the overruling stated that the phrases were covered by the "freedom of expression which is held up by the verdicts of the High Court of Appeals and the European Court of Human Rights." The high court unanimously absolved the accused, stressing that they could not be tried for using the phrase in question.
Turkish courts have frequently convicted people for referring to Ocalan as "sayin." According to HaberTurk, 29 lawyers who have represented the PKK leader currently have some 300 cases open against them for publicly referring to their client using the expression. The combination of the words "sayin" and "Ocalan" is so combustible that in 2007 Deniz Baykal, the then leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), tried to score political points by accusing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using the expression (Erdogan, of course, vocally denied the allegation).
The Supreme Court's ruling sets an important precedent appears to create a get out of jail ticket for anyone who's been convicted of the crime of "honoring" Ocalan by calling him "mister." Kurdish politicians, meanwhile, already appear to be testing the boundaries of the court's ruling. “We have never seen Ocalan as a murderer," BDP deputy Pervin Buldan said at a press conference in parliament yesterday. "We, the Kurdish people, have always seen Ocalan as a leader.”