Güveç v. Turkey (70337/01)

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Date 20090120
Article 3, 5, 6(1)
Decision violation

The Court held unanimously that there had been:

  • a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the applicant, 15 years’ old at the time, having been placed in an adult prison where he remained for the next five years;
  • a violation of Article 5 §§ 3 and 4 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention; and,
  • a violation of Article 6 § 1 in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (c) (right to a fair trial).

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded Mr Güveç 45,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,150 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)

Principal facts

The applicant, Oktay Güveç, is a Turkish national who was born in 1980 and lives in Belgium.

The case concerned in particular the applicant’s complaint that, although a juvenile, he had been placed in an adult prison, where he had remained for the next five years, and which had resulted in his repeated suicide attempts.

On 30 September 1995 the applicant, 15 years old, was arrested on suspicion of membership of the PKK (Kurdistan’s Working Party). On 12 October 1995 he was taken to Istanbul State Security Court where a judge ordered his detention in prison pending the introduction of criminal proceedings against him.

On 27 November 1995 the applicant was charged with undermining the territorial integrity of the State, an offence which was punishable by death at the time. In May 1997 that charge was modified and, following a retrial, in May 2001 the court found the applicant guilty of membership of an illegal organisation and sentenced him to eight years and four months in prison. In May 2002 the Court of Cassation upheld the applicant’s conviction.

When questioned by the police, and subsequently by the prosecutor and the judge, the applicant was not represented by a lawyer. During the retrial, both the applicant and his lawyer were absent from most of the hearings.

In August 2000 the prison doctor reported that the applicant had been suffering from serious psychiatric problems in prison and had attempted to commit suicide twice in 1999. The doctor concluded that the situation in the prison was not conducive to the applicant’s treatment and that he needed to be placed in a specialised hospital.

During his placement in a psychiatric hospital, another medical report was drawn up in April 2001; it noted that the applicant had made a third attempt to kill himself in September 1998 and had been treated for “major depression” at the hospital between June 2000 and July 2000. The report concluded that the applicant’s psychological complaints had started and worsened during his detention.

In addition, the applicant alleged before the Court that, while detained in police custody, he had been given electric shocks, sprayed with pressurised water and beaten with a truncheon, including on the soles of his feet.

The applicant apparently left Turkey in 2002 for Belgium where he has since been granted refugee status.

Procedure and composition of the Court

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 9 April 2001.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Françoise Tulkens (Belgium), President,
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy),
Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania),
Dragoljub Popović (Serbia),
Nona Tsotsoria (Georgia),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey), judges,

and also Sally Dollé, Section Registrar.

Summary of the judgment


Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), the applicant complained, in particular, about his detention in an adult prison and his trial before the State Security Court instead of a juvenile court. Under Articles 5 (right to liberty and security) and 6 (right to a fair trial), he also complained that he had not been released pending trial and that he had not been tried fairly. He also relied on Articles 13 (right to an effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

Decision of the Court

Article 3

The Court first observed that the applicant’s detention in an adult prison had been in contravention of the applicable regulations in force in Turkey at the time and of the country’s obligations under international treaties. It further noted that, according to the medical report of April 2001, the applicant’s psychological problems had begun during his detention in prison and had worsened there.

Only 15 years old when he had been detained, the applicant had spent the next five years of his life together with adult prisoners. For the first six and a half months of that period he had had no access to legal advice; nor had he had adequate legal representation until some five years after he had first been detained Those circumstances, coupled with the fact that for a period of 18 months he had been tried for an offence carrying the death penalty, had to have created a situation of total uncertainty for him.

The Court considered that those aspects of the applicant’s detention had undoubtedly caused his psychological problems which, in turn, had tragically led to his repeated attempts to take his own life. What was more, the national authorities had not only directly been responsible for the applicant’s problems, but had also manifestly failed to provide adequate medical care for him.

Consequently, given the applicant’s age, the length of his detention in prison together with adults, the failure of the authorities to provide adequate medical care for his psychological problems, and, finally, the failure to take steps with a view to preventing his repeated suicide attempts, the Court entertained no doubts that the applicant had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of Article 3.

Article 5 § 3

The Court recalled that, in at least three judgments concerning Turkey, it had previously criticised the practice of detaining children in pre-trial detention and had found violations of Article 5 § 3 for considerably shorter periods of detention than that spent by the applicant in his case. The Court thus concluded that the length of the applicant’s detention on remand had been excessive, in violation of Article 5 § 3.

Article 5 § 4

The Court reiterated its findings in earlier cases, in which it had concluded that no real possibility for challenging the lawfulness of pre-trial detention existed in Turkey at the relevant time, and found no reason to depart from its previous findings, thus finding a violation of Article 5 § 4.

Article 6 § 1 in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (c)

The Court considered that the applicant had not been able to effectively participate in the trial, given that he had not attended at least 14 of the 30 hearings both during the initial trial and at retrial. Having considered the entirety of the criminal proceedings against the applicant, and their shortcomings, in particular the lack of legal assistance for most of the proceedings, the Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (c).

Articles 13 and 14

The Court held that there was no need to examine separately the complaints under Articles 13 and 14, in view of the violations found in respect of the other Articles.