STRASBOURG–France (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey violated a key democratic principle when it banned 13 members of parliament from parliament after outlawing their party in 1994.
The judgment was a setback for Ankara–whose ambition to join the European Union hinges heavily on improvemen’s in human rights and democracy.
The EU–which plans to release a report on Turkey’s progress in October–wants the country to abolish the death penalty and ease curbs on Kurdish language broadcasting and education.
The Strasbourg-based court ruled unanimously that Turkey abused the deputies’ right to hold parliamentary office and stand for election when it banned all Democracy Party (DEP) members from political activities after the DEP’s dissolution.
The DEP–a pro-Kurdish party created in 1993–was outlawed in 1994 because some of its members and a former chairman made statemen’s that Turkey said threatened the integrity of the state and the unity of the nation.
"The Court held that the penalty imposed on the applicants could not be regarded as proportionate to the legitimate aim relied on by Turkey–that the measure was incompatible with the very essence of the right to stand for election and to hold parliamentary office and that it had infringed the unfettered discretion of the electorate which had elected the applicants," the court said in a statement.
The 13 former parliamentarians include Leyla Zana–Selim Sadak–Hatip Dicle and Orhan Dogan–who were all jailed for 15 years in 1994 for activities related to the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Last year–the court ruled Turkey had denied them a fair trial.
The four remain in prison.
On Tuesday–the court awarded each of the 13 applicants 50,000 euros ($47,260) in damages and up to 10,500 euros for legal expenses.
Tens of thousands of people–mostly Kurds–have been killed in more than 16 years of armed conflict between PKK rebels fighting for self-rule in south-eastern Turkey and Turkish security forces.
Turkey became a candidate for EU membership in 1999. The cause appeals to most Turks–who see entry into the affluent bloc as a guarantee of wider political freedoms and a ticket out of economic hardship.