“Peddling religion” and the right to privacy: Bremner v Turkey

Dion Ross Bremner, the applicant in Bremner v Turkey [2015] ECHR 877, is an Australian national who lives in New South Wales. The case concerns the broadcast of a television documentary which included secretly-filmed footage of Mr Bremner and resulted in his prosecution as a “foreign pedlar of religion” engaged in secret activities in Turkey.

The facts

At the material time in 1997 Mr Bremner was a correspondent for an Australian newspaper and worked for a Christian bookshop. In June 1997 the producers of the programme had been contacted by a certain AN: he had responded to an advertisement offering free books and, in return, Mr Bremner had sent him some books about Christianity. Following telephone calls between AN and Mr Bremner, a meeting was arranged and filmed with a hidden camera.

According to the voice-over commentary, Mr Bremner then presented the teachings of the Bible and compared Christianity with other religions, promoting his own beliefs. The programme’s presenter was then seen entering the room during a second meeting. She interviewed Mr Bremner, who stated that he was explaining Christianity on a voluntary basis. The programme then labelled him as a “pedlar of religion” and, according to Mr Bremner, after the broadcast he was taken into police custody and prosecuted for insulting God and Islam. In April 1998 the criminal court acquitted him, holding that no criminal offence had been made out. He subsequently sued the presenter and producers of the programme for damages; but his claim was dismissed on the grounds that the footage in question did not concern details of his private life but was part of a documentary on a topical issue of public interest and that there had been an important general interest in broadcasting the programme.

The judgment

Before the Second Section he alleged that the broadcast and the refusal of the judicial authorities to grant him compensation violated Article 8 ECHR (right to respect for private and family life). He also complained of violations of Articles 6 (fair trial), 9 (thought, conscience and religion) and 10 (expression). Further, he claimed that he had subsequently been forced by his landlord to leave the flat that he had been renting, allegedly on security grounds, and that he had ultimately been removed by the authorities to Bulgaria.

The Court dismissed the Government’s argument that because Mr Bremner was himself a journalist the limits of freedom of expression against him were wider than for a private individual; moreover, even if he was a correspondent for an Australian newspaper in Turkey, he was totally unknown to the Turkish public and was not acting in that capacity [79]. The Court found in particular that broadcasting his image without blurring it could not be regarded as a contribution to any debate of general interest for society at large, regardless of the degree of public interest in the question of religious proselytising [81]. It found unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 8 but dismissed as inadmissible the complaints under Articles 6, 9 and 10.

Comment

Apart from the obvious comment – “Turkey loses yet another human rights case” – the case prompts a couple of thoughts. The first is, “why is the Turkish Government so obsessive about alleged religious proselytising?”; but the second is perhaps more serious. The events complained of took place in 1997/98 and it is now 2015. Seventeen or eighteen years seems an awfully long time to wait for a resolution of a complaint.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "“Peddling religion” and the right to privacy: Bremner v Turkey" in Law & Religion UK, 14 October 2015, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2015/10/14/peddling-religion-and-the-right-to-privacy-bremner-v-turkey/

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