STRASBOURG–France (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey’s decision to ban an Islamist party because it had violated the country’s secular principles did not contravene human rights laws.
The Refah (Welfare) party–which became Turkey’s single largest party in a 1995 general election–and three of its former leaders had argued that Ankara’s decision to ban it in 1998 contravened the European Human Rights convention.
Necmettin Erbakan–a former prime minister and Refah party head–and two other former Refah leaders had also contested the decision by Turkey’s Constitutional Council to remove them from parliament and ban them from political life for five years.
But the European Court judges voted four to three in favor of rejecting the case–saying the ban was acceptable under Article 11 of the Human Rights convention–which enshrines the right to assembly and expression so long as this does not endanger the fundamental interests of a democratic society.
"The sanctions imposed on the claiman’s can reasonably be considered as responding to an imperative social need for the protection of the democratic society," the judges said in a written ruling.
"The idea that a theocratic regime might be established is not completely without foundation in Turkey."
The decision represents a rare win for the Turkish government–which is regularly slammed in human rights cases.
Refah–which was outlawed on the grounds that its leaders sought to institute Islamic law and lift a ban on the wearing of head scarves by women’students and civil servants–can appeal against the decision.
Refah’s lawyer Laurent Hincker said the court’s decision reflected a restrictive idea of the concept of secularism–on which the modern Turkish state was founded by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk in 1923.
"It seems that in Europe one can have Christian democrats but not Islamic democrats," he said.
"There is no proof that Refah was a fundamentalist party."
His words were echoed by the three judges who voted in favor of the Welfare Party’s case.
In a separate statement–the British–Austrian and Greek Cypriot judges contested the decision to ban a party based solely on the declarations of some of its leaders.
"Nothing in the statutes (of Refah) nor in its program indicates that the party was hostile to democracy," they said.
The four judges who backed the Turkish government came from France–Norway–Albania and Turkey.
Seref Malkoc–a lawyer and former member of the defunct Welfare Party–told Reuters the verdict showed a double standard existed on human rights issues.
"It means human rights are only valid for Europe’s first class people not for countries like Turkey," Malkoc said.
"With this ruling–the European Court of Human Rights has invalidated its earlier rulings supporting the freedom of expression and taken a new path."
Malkoc–a member of a newly-founded Islamic party formed after Refah’s successor Virtue was also banned for threatening the secular order–said the court’s decision could be overturned in an appeal–but did not know whether an appeal was planned.