Case of Erçep v. Turkey (Application no. 43965/04)

Case of Erçep v. Turkey (Application no. 43965/04)

The applicant was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group whose beliefs included opposition to military service, irrespective of any requirement to carry weapons. The applicant’s objections had therefore been motivated by genuinely held religious beliefs which were in serious and insurmountable conflict with his obligations in that regard. The system of compulsory military service applicable in Turkey imposed obligations on citizens that were liable to have serious consequences for conscientious objectors. It made no provision for exemption on grounds of conscience and resulted in heavy criminal penalties for persons who, like the applicant, refused to perform their military service. Hence, the interference complained of stemmed not just from the fact that the applicant had been convicted on numerous occasions, but also from the absence of any alternative form of service. Conscientious objectors had no option but to refuse to enrol in the army if they wished to remain true to their beliefs. In doing so they laid themselves open to a kind of “civil death” because of the numerous prosecutions which the authorities invariably brought against them and the cumulative effects of the resulting criminal convictions, the continuing cycle of prosecutions and prison sentences and the possibility of facing prosecution for the rest of their lives. Such a system failed to strike a fair balance between the interests of society as a whole and those of conscientious objectors. Accordingly, the penalties imposed on the applicant, without any allowances being made for the dictates of his conscience and beliefs, could not be regarded as a measure necessary in a democratic society.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

Recognition of CO Recognised