ECHR : Prisoners’ voting rights in Turkey is too harsh!!


It is automatic and indiscriminate and did not take into account the nature or gravity of the offence, the length of the prison sentence or the prisoner’s individual conduct or circumstances.

prisoner-voting-rights

© photocredit

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In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Söyler v. Turkey (application no. 29411/07), which is not final1, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned a complaint brought by a businessman convicted for unpaid cheques that he was not allowed to vote in the 2007 Turkish general elections while he was being detained in prison or in the 2011 general elections after his conditional release.

Protokol No.1

Protokol No.1, 20.03 1952 tarihinde Paris’te kabul edilmiş, 18.05.1954 tarihinde yürürlüğe girmiştir. Türkiye Protokol’ü AİHS ile birlikte 10.03.1954 tarih ve 6366 sayılı kanun ile onaylamıştır. Protokol’de üç hak düzenlenmektedir. Bu haklar şu şekildedir:
1.Mülkiyetin korunması
2.Eğitim hakkı,
3.Serbest seçimlere hak


The Court found in particular that the ban on convicted prisoners’ voting rights in Turkey was automatic and indiscriminate and did not take into account the nature or gravity of the offence, the length of the prison sentence or the prisoner’s individual conduct or circumstances. The application of such a harsh measure on a vitally important Convention right had to be seen as falling outside of any acceptable room for manoeuvre of a State to decide on such matters as the electoral rights of convicted prisoners. Indeed, the ban was harsher and more far-reaching than any the Court has had to consider in previous cases2 against the United Kingdom, Austria and Italy as it was applicable to convicts even after their conditional release and to those who are given suspended sentences and therefore do not even serve a prison term.

Principal facts

The applicant, Ahmet Atahür Söyler, is a Turkish national who was born in 1966 and lives in İzmir (Turkey). Mr Söyler is a businessman who was convicted of drawing cheques without having sufficient funds in his bank account and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of nearly five years. He began serving his sentence on 11 April 2007 and was released on probation after serving two years of his sentence.

Under Turkish law, persons convicted of having intentionally committed an offence are unable to vote while serving their sentences. While being detained in prison, Mr Söyler was therefore not able to vote in the general elections held in July 2007.

He was not able to vote in the general elections of 2011 either, as, even though he had been conditionally released in April 2009, disenfranchisment in Turkey does not come to an end on release from prison on probation, but continues until the end of the period of the original sentence handed down at the time of conviction (in the applicant’s case 1 April 2012).

When serving his prison sentence, Mr Söyler wrote to the High Council for Elections which informed him that, as a convicted prisoner, he was not entitled to vote.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court

Relying on Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, Mr Söyler complained about not having been able to vote in the general elections of 2007 and 2011. He submitted that he had been convicted for unpaid cheques, which was not an offence which meant that he was unworthy of exercising his civic duties.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 12 July 2007.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Guido Raimondi (Italy), President,
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark),
András Sajó (Hungary),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey),
Nebojša Vučinić (Montenegro),
Helen Keller (Switzerland),
and also Stanley Naismith, Section Registrar.

Decision of the Court

Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections)

Protokol No.3

Bu Protokol Sözleşmenin 29, 30 ve 34.maddelerini değiştiren bir protokoldür. Strasburgda 06.5.963 tarihinde imzalanmış, 21.09.1970 tarihinde yürürlüğe girmiştir. Ancak 11 No’lu protokol hükümleri 3 No’lu Protokol hükümlerinin yerini almıştır. Türkiye 3 No’lu Protokolü 13.07.1967 tarih ve 901 sayılı Kanun ile onaylamıştır. Onay Kanunu Resmi Gazetenin 24.07.1967 tarihli sayısında yayımlanmıştır. Onay belgesi 25.03.1968 tarihinde Avrupa Konseyi Genel Sekreterliği’ne depo edilmiştir. Protokol Türkiye bakımından 21.09.1970 tarihinden itibaren yürürlüğe girmiştir.

The Court noted that, in Turkey, disenfranchisement was an automatic consequence derived from the statute, and was therefore not left to the discretion or supervision of a judge. Moreover, such a measure was indiscriminate in its application as it did not take into account the nature or gravity of the offence, the length of the prison sentence or the prisoner’s individual conduct or circumstances.

It disagreed with the Turkish Government’s argument that the current legal framework adequately protected convicted prisoners’ voting rights as it limited the scope of the ban to those who had intentionally committed an offence, thus taking into account the nature of the offence.

The applicant’s case illustrated the indiscriminate application of disenfranchisement even to those convicted of relatively minor offences. Indeed, drawing cheques without having sufficient funds in the bank no longer carries a prison sentence. Furthermore, the restriction on Mr Söyler’s right to vote remained in force despite the fact that he had obtained early release.

Moreover, the restrictions placed on convicted prisoners’ voting rights in Turkey were harsher and more far-reaching than those the Court has had to consider in previous cases against the United Kingdom, Austria and Italy as they are applicable to convicts who do not even serve a prison term.

Notably, even when a prison sentence longer than one year is suspended and the convicted person does not serve any time in prison, he or she will still be unable to vote for the duration of the suspension of the sentence.

The Court therefore found that the automatic and indiscriminate application of such a harsh measure in Turkey on a vitally important Convention right had to be seen as falling outside of any acceptable room for manoeuvre of a State to decide on such matters as the electoral rights of convicted prisoners.

Other articles

Given the above conclusion, the Court found that no separate issues arose under Article 14 and therefore there was no need to examine Mr Söyler’s complaint under that Article.

Article 41 (just satisfaction)


The court held that the finding of a violation constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant. It also awarded the applicant’s lawyer 3,000 euros (EUR) for costs and expenses.


1 Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.


Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution.


Further information about the execution process can be found here:

2 In the case of Hirst v. the United Kingdom (no. 2) (application no. 74025/01) of 6 October 2005, the Court found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 on account of the general, automatic and indiscriminate ban on voting for convicted prisoners in detention. In the case of Frodl v. Austria (application no. 20201/04) of 8 April 2010, the Court also found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, notably because the decision on disenfranchisement had not been taken by a judge. On the contrary, in the case of Scoppola v. Italy (no. 3) (application no. 126/05) of 22 May 2012, the ban on the electoral rights of convicted prisoners was not found to have an automatic and indiscriminate character as the legislation took into account such factors as the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender.

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