Freedom of Expression of Journalist Hayko Ba?dat Violated, Says Constitutional Court

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  • January 3, 2020
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Announcing its ruling on journalist Hayko Bagdat, who was fined for allegedly insulting former Ankara Mayor GAlkcek, the Constitutional Court has ruled that the freedom of expression of the journalist has been violated.

The Constitutional Court has announced its ruling on the libel suit filed by former Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Melih GAlkcek against journalist Hayko Bagdat. The Court has ruled that the journalist's penalization violated his freedom of expression guaranteed by the Article 26 of the Constitution.

Sentenced to pay an administrative fine of 1,160 Turkish Lira (TRY) by the Ankara 24th Penal Court of First Instance on December 7, 2015, Hayko Bagdat indicated that this fine violated his freedom of expression and appealed to the Constitutional Court in January 2016.

They had a row on Twitter

The process leading to the lawsuit started on March 17, 2015, when Cem Ozdemir, the former Co-Chair of Greens Party in Germany, visited Armenia.

Also an MP in Germany, he placed a wreath on the genocide monument and called on the authorities in Turkey to recognize Armenian genocide.

After the statements of Ozdemir were reported in the press in Turkey, Melih GAlkcek quoted the news on his personal Twitter account and commented, "I am asking German Green Party MP out of curiosity... Please answer me Cem Ozdemir... Are you of Armenian origin?"

In response to this message, Hayko Bagdat posted a series of tweets such as, "Melih GAlkcek is apparently Armenian, I have just said it, hardening my heart", "I have literally called you an Armenian. File a lawsuit, I guess?", "They have just handed the capital to an Armenian. shame on you", "See you at church on Sunday, bro?" and "If we have clarified the situation, then it is all right. Melih GAlkcek is a disgusting man. As I have been saying for a thousand years: Long live the peoples' fraternity."

GAlkcek filed a complaint, criminal case ensued

After Bagdat tweeted these messages, Melih GAlkcek filed a criminal complaint, requesting that an investigation be launched against the journalist for slander, insult, incitement of the public to enmity and hatred and indignity.

The indictment filed against Bagdat upon this complaint demanded that the journalist be penalized on charge of insult. A criminal case was filed against Bagdat on the offense charged.

Announcing its ruling on December 7, 2015, the Ankara 24th Penal Court of First Instance ruled that Hayko Bagdat should pay an administrative fine of 1,160 Turkish Lira (TRY).

After the verdict of conviction was notified to the journalist, he made an individual application to the Constitutional Court.

Bagdat will be paid non-pecuniary damages

Bagdat appealed to the supreme court, arguing that his freedom of expression was violated by the administrative fine. The court accepted his application on the ground that the boundaries of criticisms against politicians and people known by the public are much wider.

Announcing its ruling on Hayko Bagdat's individual application, the Constitutional Court has ruled that the journalist's freedom of expression guaranteed by the Article 26 of the Constitution has been violated.

While the file of the case will be sent to the Ankara 24th Penal Court of First Instance so that the consequences of the violation can be eliminated in retrial, Bagdat will also be paid 9,150 TRY in non-pecuniary damages.

'Race-based political debate by Melih GAlkcek'

Referring to Bagdat's use of the word "disgusting" as disturbing, the ruling of the Constitutional Court has indicated the following in brief:

"It needs to be noted that the expression in question was used in a race-based political debate started by Melih GAlkcek. As a matter of fact, the court of first instance reduced the fine of the applicant considering the plaintiff's social media messages to be a reason for unjust provocation.

"It has been understood that the expression that led to penalization was uttered in rage caused by the plaintiff's statements about the Armenian community. When the statements made by the plaintiff are taken into consideration, the expressions cannot be considered disproportionate.

"It should not be forgotten that not only the protection of the essence of thought and knowledge, but also the way of presenting the thought and knowledge are important in freedom of expression.

"Even though they are disturbing, the penalization of criticisms against politicians can serve as a deterrent factor and cause the different voices in public to be silenced out of fear of being penalized. It is an obstacle to the sustainability of a pluralist society.

'It suppresses journalistic activities of Bagdat'

"Imposing an administrative fine on the applicant in the concrete case will suppress the activities of authorship and journalism of the applicant.

"It can harm the environment of information and criticism against the statements and activities of politicians, which is an indispensable element of a democratic society. For that reason, it has been concluded that the intervention against the applicant's freedom of expression with the aim of protecting the fame and rights of others. does not comply with the requirements of a democratic society order.

"Accordingly, the Constitutional Court has concluded that the freedom of expression of the applicant guaranteed by the Article 26 of the Constitution has been violated."

Source: English Bianet