Academic Freedom and the European Court of Human Rights

In Sapan v. Turkey (8 June 2010) the European Court of Human Rights emphasised the importance of academic freedom of expression. The case concerned the publication of a book entitled “Tarkan – anatomy of a star” (Tarkan – yıldız olgusu), in which a doctoral thesis was reproduced in part. The first part of the book analysed the emergence of stardom as a phenomenon in Turkey and the second part focused on Tarkan, a well-known pop singer there. Upon a complaint of the singer, the Turkish courts ordered the seizure of the book.

Most importantly, in ruling that the seizure constituted a violation of article 10 ECHR, the Court relied among other things on the fact that the book partly reproduced a doctoral thesis. The Court emphasised the importance of academic freedom and held that, using scientific methods, the book addressed the social phenomenon of stardom. It could not be compared with the tabloid press, or gossip columns, whose role was generally to satisfy the curiosity of a certain type of reader about details of celebrities’ private lives.

At first I thought this was the first explicit recognition of the importance of academic freedom of expression by the Court.

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