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Tuesday, 31 July, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Turkey Islamists shocked by party ban
Welfare Party former leader and prime minister Necmettin Erbakan
Ex-prime minister Erbakan claimed rights violations
Islamists in Turkey have been angered by a European Court of Human Rights decision to uphold Ankara's ban on an Islamist political party in 1998.

Turkey did not violate human rights when it banned the Welfare Party, the European court ruled on Tuesday.


Now even suspicions (of violence) are considered enough to close a party

Former Welfare Party member
"Europe has trampled on its own principles," said Seref Malkoc, a former Welfare Party lawmaker, referring to Europe's standard of free speech.

The Welfare Party had the largest number of seats in the Turkish parliament when it was shut down, and its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, was a former prime minister.

Surprise decision

The party took its case to the human rights court, claiming that its rights to freedom of assembly and association had been violated.

But human rights judges in Strasbourg decided by four votes to three that the ban had not violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

The newly-formed Felicity Party of the traditionalists in the movement reacted strongly - as did the reformers, who are yet to establish their own party.

The BBC correspondent in Ankara, Firdevs Robinson, said the ruling was as a surprise.

Appeal

A member of the former Welfare Party, Sevket Kazan, who brought the case along with another member, Ahmet Tekdal, and party chairman Erbakan, said he and Mr Tekdal would appeal.

"In the past, the European Court used as a guideline the question of involvement in violence, but now even suspicions are considered enough to close a party," Mr Kazan said.

Recai Kutan
Recai Kutan's Virtue Party has now also been banned
The decision comes only a month after Turkey's highest court also banned the Welfare Party's de facto successor, the Virtue Party, saying it had become a focus of anti-secular activities.

The court said the Welfare Party ban could "reasonably be considered to meet a pressing social need for the protection of democratic society", as the party had declared its intention to introduce Islamic law.

"They had also left in doubt their position regarding recourse to force in order to come to power, and more particularly to retain power," the judgement added.

The party's political programme had been at odds with the Convention on Human Rights, the judges said, and Turkey had acted reasonably to prevent it being implemented.

Third ban

The decision to ban the party in 1998 for unconstitutional behaviour prompted international criticism that Turkey was acting undemocratically.

It was the third time a party led by Mr Erbakan had been banned: the National Order Party was banned in 1971 after a military coup, and the National Salvation Party was shut down in 1980 - also after a coup.

Ilter Turan, professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said this verdict could spell the end to Mr Erbakan's political career.

In the election in December 1995, the Welfare Party had took than 20% of the vote.

Turkey's human rights record is a particularly sensitive issue, as it attempts to join the European Union.

As well as concern over its political bans, the country has faced strong criticism over its treatment of its Kurdish minority.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Colin Blane
"One of the thorniest political issues to come before the European Court of Human Rights"
See also:

22 Jun 01 | Europe
Turkey bans Islamic party
07 May 99 | Europe
Analysis: A headscarf too far?
06 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
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