Press Release No: Individual Application 53/23

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding No Violation of the Freedom of Expression due to the Disciplinary Sanction Imposed for a Hunger Strike in the Penitentiary Institution

On 24 May 2023, the Second Section of the Constitutional Court found no violation of the freedom of expression, safeguarded by Article 26 of the Constitution, in the individual application lodged by Çetin Sağır and Others (no. 2021/8864).

The Facts

The applicants, who were detained or convicted of terrorist offences in the penitentiary institution, went on hunger strike with similar petitions and generally on the grounds that the leader of the terrorist organisation was being held in isolation. The acts in question were carried out around the same time and some of the applicants even protested several times on various dates. Therewith, the penitentiary institution launched a disciplinary investigation against the applicants and other convicts. As a result of the disciplinary investigation, disciplinary sanctions in the form of solitary confinement were imposed on the applicants due to disseminating propaganda of criminal organizations. The applicants challenged the impugned sanctions before the execution judge. The execution judge accepted the applicants’ challenge and ruled that the disciplinary sanctions be quashed. The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office lodged an appeal against the judgments of the execution judge. The Assize Court upheld the appeal and annulled the judgments.

The Applicant’s Allegations

The applicants claimed that their freedom of expression had been violated due to the disciplinary sanctions imposed on them for the hunger strike in the penitentiary institution.

The Court’s Assessment

Considering the fact that the prisoners taking part in the impugned act were convicted or detained for terrorist offences and that they collectively went on a hunger strike over a matter not concerning their individual cases, it has been assessed that the hunger strike was organised for a person who was an undisputed symbol of the existence, objectives, and acts of the terrorist organisation and aimed at strengthening the organizational motivation, glorifying the founder of the organisation, familiarising the persons in the penitentiary institution about the organisation, its founder, and the hunger strike and disseminating the doctrine associated with the said leader. Therefore, it has been concluded that the assessment of the penitentiary institution that the said act had constituted the offence of propagating on behalf of the terrorist organization was not arbitrary and, in this regard, the disciplinary sanctions imposed on the applicants were lawful.

In addition, penitentiary institutions are special areas under the State’s control, where freedom is restricted and the State thus has an obligation to protect the safety and health of persons accommodated in these institutions and to maintain discipline. Therefore, prisoners do not have the freedom to carry out acts and protests in penitentiary institutions as they wish. It is evident that the hunger strikes organised by a large number of people inherently require extraordinary measures to be taken in terms of health and security and will undermine orderly life in penitentiary institutions. Accordingly, interferences with such protests should be considered reasonable in order to restore the order in the penitentiary institution and prevent endless hunger strikes.

Having regard to the grounds put forward for the justification of organising a hunger strike, the Constitutional Court has concluded that the applicants did not act in accordance with the sense of responsibility which is required in a penal institution.  It has been ruled that the disciplinary sanction imposed on the applicants met a pressing social need and that a fair balance was struck between the interest sought to be achieved as a result of the hunger strike and the aim of ensuring discipline in the penitentiary institution. Furthermore, considering the margin of appreciation of the penitentiary institution administration, it has been accepted that the disciplinary sanction in the form of solitary confinement was proportionate and the impugned interference was not contrary to the requirements of the order of a democratic society. 

Consequently, the Court has found no violation of the freedom of expression.

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.