Mr. Akcam had challenged Article 301 of Turkey's criminal code that provided for arrest and conviction of anyone who used the term "genocide" to describe the killing of Armenians during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire,
The Republic of Turkey, a successor to that empire has consistently taken exception to its own citizens and those around the world for characterizing the 1.5 million deaths in that way. Its criminal code provided for up to three years in prison for anyone who violated the law because it denigrated the "Turkishness" of ancestors of those accused of carrying out the atrocities.
While amendments were made to the language of Article 301 after a series of highly publicized cases brought against many prominent Turkish intellectuals, journalists and teachers, Taner Akcam claimed that it didn't stop charges being brought and investigations from interfering with citizens' rights of free expression.
The European Court of Human Rights published a unanimous decision in favor of Mr. Akcam and others, announced in a press release late Tuesday. The court, set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights decided that Turkey violated Article 10 of that Convention.
Mr. Akcam brought his case after the tragic killing of journalist Hrant Dink in 2007. Dink was the editor of AGOS, a bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper and had been convicted under Article 301. He became the target of death threats and attacks by political extremists and was shot to death early that year.
There was an uproar over Dink's death and in response, the Turkish government revised the language of Article 301 to add what is described by the court as a "security clause". It required that any investigation into the activities of individuals accused of violating the law had to be approved by the Turkish Minister of Justice.
Prior to Mr. Dink's death but after his conviction, Taner Akcam published an editorial in Dink's newspaper that criticized the government's actions. He was hit with three criminal complaints of his own. Akcam was thoroughly investigated but ultimately not charged or punished.
Despite that he was subjected to what he called a media smear campaign and received the same public threats as Dink. It caused him to cease writing and publishing on the 1915 killings and as a result, he appealed to the Court of Human Rights. His main argument centered on his fear of expressing himself and suffering the consequences which in the U.S. is called a "chilling effect" on free speech rights.
Akcam told the court that despite the amendments to Article 301 there was no meaningful difference in how writers were treated in Turkey when they called the Armenian killings a "genocide."
The court agreed with Akcam and while the decision was made public today, it is not final. In the press release regarding the court ruling, it is explained that there is a three-month period during which one of the parties to the litigation can request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the court.
There, five judges will consider whether further examination of the case is necessary. If it moves on for more review, a final decision will be rendered by that Grand Chamber. If the judges consider the matter closed, today's ruling will then become final.
Image source of European Court of Human Rights: Wikipedia