Following the recent attempted coup, Turkey has declared a state of emergency and temporarily suspended the European Convention on Human Rights within its borders.

A quick look at the country's track record of freedom of expression shows that the court which enforces the convention has frequently disagreed with Ankara in the past.

ECHR cases by country on Freedom of Expression 1959-2011

 ECHR cases by country on Freedom of Expression 1959-2011
Image: ECHR

So why is Turkey keen to suspend the convention now?

And given that the idea of being able to suspend a set of rights seems to defeat the object of having them in the first place, what exactly is the European Convention on Human Rights?

How did it come about?

In the wake of Second World War there was a desire to codify a set of freedoms which would apply to everyone and help protect against tyranny.

The United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first global expression of rights to which all human beings were inherently entitled. It was a turning point in history: a written text promoting peace and diplomacy.

The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted in 1950 by the newly formed Council of Europe in Rome.

The convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms aimed to achieve greater international unity in recognizing the equal rights of men and women, and to incorporate the traditions of civil liberty. It came into force on 3 September 1953 and now has 47 member countries.

What does it say?

There are 17 key articles relating to rights and freedoms. They include: the right to life; prohibition of torture; the right to liberty and security; the right to a fair trial; the right to respect for private and family life; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and freedom of expression.

Who enforces it?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is the international court based in Strasbourg, which implements the convention.

This is the place where rules on individual or state applications, alleging violations of civil and political rights set out in the convention, are made. It is also the physical place where rulings are made.

Article 46 of the convention says that state governments must abide by the final decision of the court.

Has it decided anything important?

Yes. From detention without trial in Northern Ireland to gay rights and the right to wear religious symbols and clothing, the ECtHR has ruled on many controversial areas and prompted many governments to introduce reform.

What’s Turkey’s record?

Turkey, along with Russia, is one of the countries most frequently found by the European Court of Human Rights to have violated the convention.

Total ECHR judgements by country 1959-2011

 Total ECHR judgements by country 1959-2011
Image: ECHR

At the end of June 2016 there were 8,250 case applications waiting to be heard.

In 2015, the court delivered 87 judgments on Turkey, 79 of which found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What does suspension actually mean?

Article 15 of the convention allows for suspension in times of public emergency threatening the life of a nation.

There can be no suspension of some articles, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment without law.

Eight states have suspended the ECHR since it came into force in 1953, including the United Kingdom during violence in Northern Ireland and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.

France opted out of some of the convention's aspects during a state of emergency implemented in November 2015 after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people. It then extended the state of emergency after the truck attack in Nice that killed 84 people.

The measure allows French police to search homes and arrest people without needing the consent of judges. Security officials can also tap computers and phones more easily.

Turkey’s suspension of the ECHR will allow it to waive certain rights, including freedom of movement, expression and association, but the convention stipulates that measures must be strictly proportionate and not discriminate against ethnicity, religion or social group.

What has the reaction been?

Human Rights organizations have urged Turkey to ensure rights are respected regardless of the state of emergency.

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, urged the Turkish government to maintain both the rule of law and a sense of proportion in its response to the coup attempt.

“Only provable involvement in illegal acts, not suspected political leanings, should trigger governmental action,” Steinmeier said.

The suspension does not release Turkey from all of its convention obligations and does not mean it will decide what it can and cannot do.

Where the Turkish government seeks to suspend the convention, the European Court of Human Rights will still decide whether the suspension is a proportional response in each case brought.

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