LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Kaos GL vs Turkey – a positive decision at a timely moment

Protecting fundamental freedoms is always important – but sometimes the timing of such protection can send an even more powerful signal.

ILGA-Europe welcome yesterday’s unanimous decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which upheld freedom of expression in the case of Kaos GL vs Turkey.

This case is important, not just because it underlines the vital importance of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, but also because it establishes that the ‘protection of public morals’ argument advanced by the State cannot be used in an unreasonable manner and act as a justification for blanket restrictions in exercising freedom of expression.

The European Court of Human Rights found that the seizure of all copies of a magazine produced by LGBT NGO Kaos GL in 2006, citing the protection of public morals, was not a proportionate response by the authorities. As a result, the Turkish authorities had disproportionately interfered with Kaos GL’s right of freedom of expression and violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Kaos GL v Turkey judgment is very timely. It ties together a number of issues that have been leading news bulletins all over Europe recently – the work of civil society groups in the country, freedom of expression and human rights.

Journalists and human rights lawyers have been detained, NGO’s shut down and media organisations closed in the wake of July’s attempted military coup. In the past week alone, an additional 370 civil society organisations were banned.

“These actions have been justified by Turkish authorities as a necessity during the extended state of emergency. However, these decisions do not happen in a vacuum. They are not benign or merely unpalatable. They are clear evidence of a move away from a tolerant society to one where human rights are forced to take a back seat” commented ILGA-Europe Programmes Director Bjorn van Roozendaal.   

The most recent report compiled by the European Commission on how well Turkey is progressing through its list of enlargement requirements said that the country had undergone “serious backsliding in the past year in the area of freedom of expression”.

Yesterday's ECtHR judgment serves as a reminder to Turkey that it is party to a number of international human rights agreements that value basic freedoms, such as the right to freely assemble, freedom of association and freedom of expression. It has an obligation to protect and vindicate those rights – and ILGA-Europe will be one of many international groups who will be monitoring how well they are fulfilling this obligation.