In Ahmet Arslan and Others v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights overturned, by a vote of 6-1, a 1997 decision by the Turkish courts convicting 127 Turkish nationals of breaking two laws, one against wearing headgear and the other against wearing religious clothing in public other than for religious ceremonies. The applicants, members of a religious group known as Aczimendi tarikatÿ, claimed that their conviction violated Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR found that the decision of the Turkish courts amounted to violation of the applicants’ freedom of conscience and religion by prohibiting their expression of religion through their clothing. The court noted that it might have accepted that strict maintenance of a secular system was important for Turkey’s democracy and public safety, but that the Turkish judicial decisions at issue had failed to rely on that justification. The Court further noted that, unlike several other religious dress cases it had decided, the applicants here were punished for their religious dress in public areas that were open to all, rather than in public establishments where the state’s interest in religious neutrality might outweigh the individual’s right to manifest his or her religion.
The clothing mandated by Aczimendi tarikatÿ religious order includes a turban, baggy pants, a tunic, and a stick. Applicants had been arrested in 1996 while walking to the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, and filed their petition with the ECtHR in 1997.