Top court backs Denmark in discontinuing licence for PKK TV channel

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in a unanimous decision issued on 24 May 2018, backed the domestic courts in Denmark for convicting a broadcaster that promoted the activities of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and discontinuing their licence to broadcast.

PKK protest A Kurdish protest in Germany (Rainer Jensen/ dpa)

The 'Roj TV A/S' had been broadcasting in the Kurdish language, in Europe and Middle East, via satellite from Denmark, since 2004. Turkey’s government had complained against the channel’s support for the PKK in 2006 and 2007, but these complaints were dismissed by the Danish Radio and Television Board. Turkey and several international bodies, including the European Union, consider the PKK to be a terrorist organisation.

However in 2012, the Copenhagen City Court found that the television network breached Denmark’s penal code provisions on anti-terrorism. It convicted Roj TV A/S because of programmes broadcast in the period 2008-2010 and imposed a fine of around 349,000 Euros.

The High Court of Eastern Denmark in 2013 extended the period to 2006-2010 and the fine to 671,141 Euros, and deprived the TV station from licence to broadcast. Roj TV A/S declared itself bankrupt during that same year.

No breach of the right to freedom of expression

The top European human rights court decided now that the television station’s complaint that its rights had been breached under article 10 of the European Convention (the right to freedom of expression) was inadmissible. “Freedom of expression as protected by the Convention could not give a reason for exemption from punishment”, it decided.

The ECtHR said the domestic courts had found that the TV station promoted "PKK’s terror operation” and that it was “to a significant extent” financed by the PKK during 2006 to 2010. “The domestic courts carefully assessed the evidence before them and conducted a balancing exercise, which took into account the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression”, the court decided.

The ECtHR invoked article 17 which prohibits abuse of rights. According to the ECtHR’s decision, the television channel’s programmes “included incitement to violence and support for terrorist activity”, were “disseminated to a wide audience”, and related to a “paramount (issue) in modern European society - the prevention of terrorism and terrorist-related expressions advocating the use of violence”. The court said that the ROJ TV A/S complaint does not, by virtue of Article 17 of the Convention, attract the protection afforded by Article 10.

Propaganda for the PKK

"Copenhagen City Court found that the one-sided coverage with repetitive incitement to participate in fights and actions, incitement to join the organisation/the guerrillas, and the portrayal of deceased guerrilla members as heroes, amounted to propaganda for the PKK, a terrorist organisation, and that it could not be considered only a declaration of sympathy”, the decision said.

Case of ROJ TV A/S v. Denmark, Application no. 24683/14

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –