STRASBOURG (Reuters)–Turkey’s banned Islamist Refah (Welfare) party on Tuesday accused Ankara before the European Court of Human Rights of conducting a witch-hunt against it.
"This was a witch-hunt in which a party was banned and the government cast around afterwards for reasons to justify the move," said French lawyer Laurent Hincker–acting for Refah.
Turkey banned the party in 1998 on the grounds that it violated the country’s secular principles–described by its defenders as "the essence of the Turkish state."
Hincker also represented three former party leaders in the case–former premier Necmettin Erbakan–ex-Justice Minister Sevket Kazan–and Ahmet Tekdal–all of whom were elected to parliament in 1995.
Hincker told the court it was the Turkish government’s "rejection of political pluralism" and not his clients’ purported desire to install Koranic laws which were a threat to democracy.
The court’s ruling in the case is expected in several months. The three Refah leaders have each asked for $229,000 in lost parliamentary salaries–$50,000 to make up for confiscated party property and unspecified "moral compensation."
"This is a serious case in a European democracy," Hincker said–referring to guarantees of freedom of association and expression existing in the European Convention of Human Rights.
Refah became Turkey’s single largest party when it obtained nearly 22 percent of the vote at the 1995 general election. It was banned on January 16–1998 by the Constitutional Council–which held its activities and statemen’s by its leaders to be contrary to the country’s secular principles. The Constitutional Council said party leaders sought to institute Islamic law and the wearing of headscarves by women in public places and in schools.
The decision to ban Refah was taken in 1998–a year after Erbakan was eased out of power under pressure from the military. Erbakan was later sentenced to a year in prison for alleged incitement to hate in a speech made in 1994. But the former leader–now 74–avoided jail because of an amnesty law.
Turkish government counsel Ergun Ozbudun told the court the "just social order" Refeh said it wanted to impose was merely a cover for the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). He recalled that secularism was the cornerstone of the modern Turkish state founded by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk in 1923.
"Secularism is a necessary basic condition for a democratic political order," said Ozbudun who added that–unlike Christianity–Islam was incompatible with democracy. "Christianity is based on the teachings of Jesus that ‘my kingdom is not of this world’ and ‘we should leave to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ Islam on the other hand aspires to handle judicial–and to a lesser extent–political issues as well as religious questions," he said.