ECHR rules that Turkey violated journalists' rights


STRASBOURG - The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled Turkey had violated journalists' rights to freedom of expression in trying to force reporters for an opposition magazine to reveal their sources.
The ruling came with Turkey already under pressure over media freedom after prosecutors on Monday launched an investigation into an opposition leader for calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "tinpot dictator."
Tuesday's ruling found Turkey had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of expression.
The case concerned six journalists from weekly opposition magazine Nokta which in April 2007 published an article on documents that the army chief of staff had classified as confidential.
After the chief of staff complained, Turkey's Military Court ordered a search of the magazine's offices, where officials transferred data from 46 computers in a bid to find the reporters' sources.
Lawyers for the magazine unsuccessfully appealed, citing the right to protection of journalistic sources.
The Nokta article had unveiled the existence within the military of a system for classifying media and reporters on the basis of whether they were "favourable" or "hostile" to the army.
Such "arbitrary" selection of journalists to cover stories "on the basis of their political tendencies" was harmful to freedom of expression, the court judged.
The ruling comes with two other Nokta journalists facing up to 20 years in jail for allegedly plotting a coup.
They were arrested following last November's elections after a front-page article described the landslide victory of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party as "the beginning of civil war in Turkey."
In the ruling against Ankara, the Court found there had been a violation of the journalists' right to freedom of expression, "especially their right to impart information."
Turkey's action had, moreover, been disproportionate and "had not been necessary in a democratic society," the Court found.
It warned that orders to force the revealing of journalistic sources could discourage the reporting of "misconduct or controversial acts by public authorities."
The Court attacked what it viewed as an attempt "to deter potential sources from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of general interest, including when they concerned the armed forces."
The judgment, handed down by a chamber of seven judges including one Turk, ruled that Ankara should pay damages to the journalists ranging from 500 to 2,750 euros ($3,000).