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European Court of Human Rights Rules in Turkey's Favor - 2001-07-31


The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey's 1998 decision to ban the Islamist Welfare Party did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. (The court is based in Strasbourg, France.)

The European human rights court ruled that a three-year-old ban on Turkey's once-powerful Welfare Party did not violate Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regarding freedom of assembly and association.

By a vote of 4-3, the court said the Welfare Party's efforts to establish Islamic Sharia law in Turkey was at odds with values embodied in the human rights convention.

The court also argued that the Welfare Party's position about resorting to violence to achieve and keep power was not clear. It said political parties that resorted to violence or to undemocratic means could not rely on the European human rights convention.

Former Welfare deputy chairman Sevket Kazan called the European court's decision surprising. Mr. Kazan, a plaintiff in the case, told Turkey's Anatolia news agency an appeal would be filed.

In Ankara, former Welfare members accused the court of adopting double standards and being unfair.

The Welfare Party was once the largest party in Turkey's parliament. The party's leader, Necmettin Erbakan, became the country's first Islamist prime minister after a 1995 general election. But his coalition government collapsed after just one year in power, after clashing with Turkey's powerful and pro-secular military over his Islamist-oriented policies.

In 1998, Turkey's Constitutional Court banned the Welfare Party, which was accused of being a hub for anti-secular activities. Shortly after, Mr. Erbakan and two other Welfare politicians filed a complaint with the European court, arguing the decision violated the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Turkey also banned Mr. Erbakan from politics for life and sentenced him to a year in jail. But he has not served any time, and since won partial amnesty.

In June, Turkey's Constitutional Court outlawed the pro-Islamic Virtue party. The decision has sparked criticism from some European governments. Altogether, more than one-dozen Turkish political parties have been dissolved over the past decade.