MLSA, MLDI take jailed journalist Sayılgan’s case to ECtHR

9 October 2018
  • First journalist application from Turkey filed in collaboration with international lawyers
  • News stories with by-line are the only evidence against the Kurdish journalist
  • Application argues violations of right to liberty, free-speech, fair-trial rights 


The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) and the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) on 9 October applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on behalf of journalist İdris Sayılğan, who has been imprisoned for two years on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorist propaganda” on the basis of his news reports and interviews.

The application is unique in Turkey in that it is the only ECtHR application ever filed on behalf of a journalist in collaboration with international lawyers.

Sayılğan, who has been imprisoned in Trabzon Prison since 24 October 2016, is represented by the MLSA’s Legal Team. MLSA  Coordinator and Lawyer Veysel Ok noted that Sayılğan was detained on the basis of news reports carrying his by-line and phone conversations with people who are clearly news sources.

Reiterating that the application was the product of joint efforts by MLSA and MLDI lawyers, Ok said: "This is the first time in Turkey that an ECtHR application for a journalist is being filed together with an international organization. We believe that collaboration and solidarity with international organizations add strength to ECtHR applications."

Sayılğan not brought to hearings

Ok noted that no real progress had been made in Sayılğan’s proceedings since his arrest in October 2016, adding that his client had not been brought to a single one of the eight hearings that have so far taken place in the trial.

The MLSA Coordinator said, “We have proven that İdris’s detention is unlawful before the Muş 2. High Criminal Court a number of times. Yet, the court has chosen not to release him. He hasn’t even once faced the judges who have put him on trial inside the courtroom. We applied to the Constitutional Court in July, but the high court has yet to take action regarding that application. That’s why we are now going to the ECtHR requesting a ‘priority’ review of İdris’s  situation under Court Rule 41.”

Rule 41, which deals with the order of cases before the Court, states that a particular application might be given priority in some situations.

Ok explained that Sayılğan’s application is in no way different from earlier ECtHR applications filed by journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, who were detained as part of coup-related investigations in 2016. The European Court, which has ruled on both applications, found violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the detention of the two journalists, both of whom have since been released. “We expect a similar outcome from İdris’s application,” Ok added.

The application for Sayılğan argues that his right to liberty and security (protected under Article 5 of the ECHR); his right to a fair trial (Article 6); his right to freedom of expression (Article 10), and his right to an effective remedy (Article 13) have been violated by Turkish authorities. The application also argues that Turkey’s treatment of the journalist constitutes a violation of Article 18, which imposes limitations on use of restrictions on rights.

Background on Sayılğan’s case

Sayılğan who is accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “spreading propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization” was detained on 17 October 2016. He was initially kept at a police detention center in deplorable conditions for eight consecutive days before he was finally placed in pre-trial detention after his arraignment on 25 October. During his initial detention, he was denied access to legal counsel and phone calls to his family.

The journalist was later transferred to a prison in Trabzon, a Black Sea province which is some 450-km away from Muş province,where the court conducting Sayılğan's proceedings is located.

The indictment against Sayılğan cites several news reports he published on local events in the predominantly Kurdish-populated city of Muş as well as transcripts of phone conversations with news sources.

The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for 24 December.