Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) was an Islamic fundamentalist party that advocated the introduction of sharia law. The governing party deemed that platform to violate the Turkish constitution enshrining a secular state, and used that as a pretext to ban the party. Turkey has been frequently before the ECHR for its wide-ranging application of bans on political parties. However, it is hardly alone in its clashes with the ECHR's over political parties. The ECHR has long been a defender of political parties. In 2006 it described 15 years of state harassment. According to the ECHR, “ In their decisions of July and November 1990 and March 1991 the [Bulgarian] courts found that Ilinden’ s aims were directed against the unity of the nation, that it advocated national and ethnic hatred and that it was dangerous for the territorial integrity of Bulgaria” and that a campaign against the party had been ongoing since then.
Eventually, the Bulgarian courts approved a ban on the political activities of Ilinden. The ECHR immediately invoked Article 11 and the fundamental and essential contribution that a diversity of political parties makes to democratic life.
“ The Court has often referred to the essential role played by political parties in ensuring pluralism and democracy, associations formed for other purposes, including those protecting cultural or spiritual heritage, pursuing various socio-economic aims, proclaiming or teaching religion, seeking an ethnic identity or asserting a minority consciousness, are also important to the proper functioning of democracy. ” Moreover, the ECHR asserted categorically that to advocate autonomy is not to advocate violence: However, the mere fact that a group of persons calls for autonomy or even requests secession of part of a country’ s territory – thus demanding fundamental constitutional and territorial changes – cannot automatically justify interferences with their rights under Article 11.
Expressing separatist views and demanding territorial changes in speeches, demonstrations, or program documents does not amount per se to a threat to a country’ s territorial integrity and national security.
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