Turkey’s top court rules the endorsement, promotion of ISIS, attempts to join the jihadist battle not terrorism

Abdullah Bojkurt/Stockholm

A Turkish jihadist who was twice convicted of terrorism charges for allegedly trying to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), campaigning on behalf of the terrorist group on social media and communicating with ISIS members has been freed by Turkey’s highest appeal. Court.

The jihadist, whose identity was kept secret by the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargite), was convicted and sentenced to prison on terrorism charges by Istanbul’s 13th High Criminal Court in 2018. Evidence collected during the investigation showed that he actively engaged with known ISIS members, exchanged communications with them and inquired about how to join ISIS in Syria.

A review of his social media accounts revealed that he was promoting ISIS on the Internet and supporting ISIS leaders. The Supreme Court of Appeals’ Third Chamber, which reviews terrorism cases, overturned the conviction in 2021, citing procedural irregularities during the trial. It did not review the case on merits.

The jihadi was retried by a lower court and again convicted. After an appeal for the second conviction, the Supreme Court ruled on October 3, 2022, acquitting Jihadi, stating that the lower court’s decision was wrong. This time, the court set a precedent by reviewing the case on its merits and ruled that propagating on behalf of a terrorist organization and investigating routes to Syria to join ISIS does not constitute a terrorist offense.

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The court said that “sharing pictures praising the Daesh terrorist organization as well as posters bearing the organization’s symbols and photos of the organization’s militants” merely shows that the person sympathizes with ISIS and does not mean that the person is organically connected to the ISIS organization structure. Also known as the Arabic acronym Dash. The jihadist’s communications with ISIS members and inquiries into joining the group in Syria were not considered sufficient evidence to convict him.

Rulings by the Supreme Court of Appeals have twice overturned convictions of ISIS jihadists, concluding that promotion and endorsement of ISIS and attempts to join ISIS in Syria do not constitute grounds for conviction on terrorism charges:

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The ruling sets a dangerous precedent in Turkey, in which advocating on behalf of a terrorist organization, contacting known ISIS terrorists and planning to join the group in a neighboring country are no longer considered criminal offences.

The Turkish Penal Code prohibits “spreading or disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization” under the Anti-Terrorism Law no. 371 makes it an offence. The article is often used in Turkey to suppress critical voices and dissent that did not actually incite violence and was abused by the government—the judiciary controls the punishment of journalists who have nothing to do with terrorism or violence.

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In a strange twist, this same story is often ignored in ISIS cases, where the government has quietly ordered prosecutors and judges to go easy on suspects even when they advocate terrorism and incite violence.

Given the track record of judges in the chamber, it is not surprising that the Third Chamber has twice overturned the jihadist conviction. A survey of cases in recent years shows that those judges have overturned convictions in several ISIS cases and ordered the release of jihadi militants.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears with judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals during the opening ceremony of the new fiscal year on September 1, 2022.

As a result, successful ISIS convictions, already rare in lower courts, have been dismissed by senior judges who follow the Islamist government’s lenient guidelines when it comes to cracking down on jihadist groups.

The chamber, previously designated as the 16th Chamber, was created in 2014 by a special bill approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to replace the country’s highest court of appeals. In a strange change, the new chamber was mandated to examine all terrorism cases that the 9th Chamber had reviewed for decades. The government dominated the Court of Appeals with 140 new judges in 2014 and another 100 in 2018. The judges named to the chamber are carefully vetted by Erdogan’s government, and the bench is filled with loyalists.

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Turkish officials did not disclose the number of successful convictions in ISIS cases or how many convictions were actually upheld on appeal. They declined to respond to parliamentary questions asking for such information. Instead, they often float statistics on the number of detentions and in some cases arrests, which in most cases lead to acquittals and releases.

Thousands of militants, both Turkish and foreign, have used Turkish territory to enter Syria with the help of smugglers to fight alongside ISIS and al-Qaeda groups. The Turkish intelligence agency MIT facilitated their journey. Human smugglers who helped jihadists travel in and out of Syria across the Turkish border were known and monitored by Turkish authorities, but their activities were often overlooked.

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