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ECHR orders Turkey to compensate owner of closed Kurdish newspaper

ANKARA (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Turkey on Tuesday to compensate the owner of a Kurdish newspaper that was shut down in 2016, after finding that criminal proceedings had been “systematically opened” against it.

Nadire Mater, Faruk Balikci, Yildirim Turker and Tugrul Eryilmaz, who were guest editors at pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem, are pictured with their fellow journalists before they appear at a court for testimony, outside the Justice Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The closure of daily Ozgur Gundem, for what the Turkish court that ordered it said was spreading propaganda in favour of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), came shortly after the abortive coup in Turkey in July 2016.

The paper, which focused on the conflict between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast, has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of its correspondents since 2014.

In its ruling published on Tuesday, the ECHR said criminal proceedings against the paper had been “systematically opened, regardless of the actual content of the articles”.

The ECHR said the lawsuits had led the paper’s owner Ali Gurbuz to self-censor for fear of conviction and ordered the Turkish government to pay him 3,500 euros (3,030 pounds).

Turkey has the right to appeal the ruling.

The ECHR said the criminal proceedings could be seen as the authorities trying to suppress publication of statements by terrorist organisations “even though they could be regarded as contributing to a public debate”. Some articles cited contained “insignificant messages”, such as Christmas wishes, and did not constitute calls for violence or hate speech, it said.

The PKK is deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union. More than 40,000 people have been killed during its three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

Since the failed coup attempt, Turkey has jailed more than 77,000 people pending trial, while 150,000 civil servants and military personnel have been suspended or sacked. Some 150 media outlets have been shut down and 160 journalists jailed.

Widespread arrests are still routine.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan has used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Catherine Evans