Mehmet Reşit Arslan ve Diğerleri Başvurusu
Mehmet Resit Arslan and Others, Application No: 2013/583, 10 December 2014
On the time of the application, the applicants were being held in Kırıkkale F Type Close High Security Penal Institution following their conviction of terrorism. They were continuing their higher education at the computer classroom which was appropriate for the use of distance education. The Board of Administration and Observation decided that the prisoners convicted of terror crime to be allowed to the computer room on working days between 13.30-16.30 under supervision. The board based this decision on the ground that “due to the nature of the crimes committed by these prisoners, it is not possible for them to participate to the distance education together both for legal and for safety reasons”. The petition made towards the cancellation of this decision was rejected by the relevant Judge of Execution; the applicants objected to this decision before the High Criminal Court of Kırıkkale to no avail.
B) Judgment and Reasoning of the Court
According to the Constitutional Court, due to its very nature, education may be restricted by the regulations of the State under certain circumstances. The rules regulating education can vary time to time in view of actual exigencies. Therefore, States have a certain margin of appreciation in this domain, which increases with the level of education, in inverse proportion to the importance of that education for those concerned and for society at large (§ 67).
The Court stated that Article 42 of the Constitution brings a negative obligation which essentially requires States not to interfere in education and training, but does not impose any positive obligation to provide education and training for people, except for those in primary education (§ 68). The right to education guarantees the access to educational institutions that exist at a certain time and covers both the public and private educational institutions with primary, secondary and higher education levels (§ 68). However, it does not create any obligation for the State to establish and/or support particular educational institutions (§ 71). The Court noted that neither Constitution nor the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) guarantee any regulation in relation to the education and training for prisoners. However, access to the existing educational institutions within the penal institutions should be provided to all prisoners (§ 71). It considered that the Law no. 5275, Enforcement Act and Decrees of the Ministry of Justice brought an obligation onto the State to provide education and training to the prisoners pursuant to the facilities available at the penal institution. Despite the non-existence of this positive obligation within the scope of the Constitution or the ECHR, it has been brought by the relevant legal provisions in Turkish law. Therefore, it is concluded that an obligation not to prevent the access to the education in penal institutions were present and valid (§ 72). In the concrete case, the Court found that there has been a violation of the applicants’ right to education by the restriction of the time of usage of the computer room (§ 77). Subsequently the Court stated that the limitations on the right to education must be foreseeable and proportionate in consideration of the legitimate aim pursued (§ 78). However, it was of the opinion that neither the Constitution nor the Convention carries an exhaustive list of legitimate aims for limiting the right to education. In the light of the general principles in Article 13 of the Constitution, the State has a broad margin of appreciation on these legitimate aims (§ 80). The Court stated that, “it is acceptable to prevent the gathering of prisoners who were convicted for certain crimes or pose a danger to the disciplinary order of the prison for some activities” (§ 82). For security reasons within the penal institution, the prevention of gathering of prisoners convicted for terror crime and people who organize a crime syndicate for generating profit is a reasonable and acceptable measure that could be considered under the scope of the said margin of appreciation (§ 83). The Court examined whether it was obligatory to attend the lessons of distance education and the effects of the restriction to the educational activities and stated that the file did not include any document suggesting whether the applicants were obliged to follow the lessons on computer. Therefore, it was not possible to determine whether the education would become meaningless after the time of usage of computer room dropped from 21 hours to 15 hours (§ 84). According to the Court, the aim pursued by the administration was not to eliminate the right to education, but to guarantee security and discipline. Furthermore, the applicants could not set forth any concrete, reasonable and acceptable claims on the problems they would go through as a result of a possible extension of their education period due to that restriction. The Court concluded that since the continuance of their education was secured, the restriction should be deemed proportional and thus, there was no violation of the right to education (§ 86).
C) Significance of the Judgment
This is the first judgment where the Constitutional Court decided on the merits of an application on right to education and the access of the prisoners to education.