In the decision dated November 28, 2019 with No. 2016/256 (“Decision“), the Constitutional Court ruled that the imposition of a criminal sanction on the applicant due to their publications on social media criticizing a politician violated the freedom of speech. The decision was published in the Official Gazette on January 3, 2020.
The applicant, who has been involved in radio and television programming and journalism, received a punitive fine on the grounds of defamation due to their online publications criticizing a well-known politician. The applicant argued that the punishment violates their freedom of speech and right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Constitution of Turkey.
What Does the Decision Say?
The Constitutional Court (“Court“) states in its Decision that one of the grounds for restricting freedom of speech is to preserve an individual’s reputation and dignity. The Court also notes that the application must be evaluated based on the existing facts, and that it is crucial to maintain the balance between freedom of speech and an individual’s reputation and dignity.
Accordingly, the Court assessed that (i) there is a higher threshold of acceptable criticism of or comments aimed at a well-known politician, as he is a public figure; (ii) the punishment for the criticism of and comments aimed at politicians may have a deterrent impact on the community and intimidate others from voicing different opinions; and (iii) the applicant’s punishment would suppress their journalistic activities and prevent them from sharing information and criticizing the politicians’ statements and activities on public platforms . In this respect, the Constitutional Court ruled that that the applicant’s freedom of speech was violated.
The Decision is available here (in Turkish).
In assessing the sanctions and measures taken against freedom of speech, the Court reiterated that the balance between an individual’s reputation and dignity – which are a part of their personal rights and moral integrity – and freedom of speech must be maintained, and the authorities should assess this balance on a case-by-case basis. The Constitutional Court opined that there should be fewer limitations on the freedom of speech when it concerns the criticism of and comments aimed at public figures, in particular politicians.