STRASBOURG (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Turkey for violating the rights of former Virtue Party (FP) deputies Merve Safa Kavakci, Nazli Ilicak and Mehmet Silay. The court viewed the decision that instituted a ban on the former FP deputies from involvement in political activities for five years as contrary to right to free election outlined in the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Strasbourg Court also decided that Kavakci, Ilicak and Silay be compensated 4,000, 5,000 and 3,000 euros respectively. Commenting on the decision, Ilicak said she found the ruling satisfactory, while Kavakci said she did not see it as a personal gain. "It is a gain on the part of those who suffered only because they wore headscarves," she explained. Kavakci, currently living in the US, said the ruling helped make the point that headscarved mothers cannot be forced to stay outside a university campus while their daughters and sons celebrate their graduation. This ruling also demonstrated that even covered women can become deputies and enter the Turkish Parliament, said Kavakci. In its judgment the European court, while agreeing that Turkey’s Constitutional Court had the right to close political parties threatening the principle of secularism, stressed that it found the ban imposed on the elected deputies contrary to the convention’s provisions. With reference to the previous case law on former People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) deputy Selim Sadak, the European court noted that the five-year ban was excessive and drew attention to the contradiction that while the vice presidents of the FP were still able to engage in political activities, Kavakci and Ilicak were banned from enjoying the same right. In the unanimous decision taken by the seven-judge panel, Turkish judge Riza Trmen held the same view and contended that the rights of Merve Kavakci were violated. The recent decision is also important for its content on the FP case which was withdrawn by Saadet (happiness or contentment) Party (SP) leader Recai Kutan. The European court made no criticism on the closure of the party by the Turkish court. Recalling that the FP was closed because it was a menace to the secular regime, the European court noted that Turkey’s Constitutional Court was entitled to close the parties that jeopardize the viability of the constitutional order. The decision noted that the domestic restrictions were imposed to protect the secular characteristics of the Turkish political regime and ruled that the restrictive measures should be viewed as means of self defense of the established regime. SP leader Recai Kutan withdrew the complaint following the European court ruling that confirmed the headscarf ban in its Leyla Sahin decision on grounds that the court was acting with a double-standard. At the hearing held in Strasbourg on Oct. 13, 2005, Merve Kavakci asserted that the decision to close the FP was anti-democratic and the political ban imposed on her targeted all headscarf-wearing women in Turkey. Counsels for the Turkish government, drawing attention to the substantial reforms that expanded the sphere of fundamental rights and freedoms, stressed that closing a political party had become much more difficult since the introduction of the reforms.