States may prohibit political parties that advocate the use of violence or that pose a realistic and imminent threat to democracy.
- It is well established in the Court’s case-law that drastic measures, such as the dissolution of an entire political party, may only be taken in the most serious cases (see Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above; United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, § 46; Socialist Party and Others v. Turkey, 25 May 1998, § 50, Reports 1998-III; and Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey [GC], no. 23885/94, § 45, ECHR 1999-VIII). That is why the nature and severity of the interference is also a factor to be taken into account when assessing its proportionality (see, for example, Sürek v. Turkey (no. 1) [GC], no. 26682/95, § 64, ECHR 1999-IV).
- The Court has already considered that the constitution and programme of a political party cannot be taken into account as the sole criterion for determining its objectives and intentions. The content of the programme must be compared with the actions of the party’s leaders and members and the positions they defend. Taken together, these acts and stances may be relevant in proceedings for the dissolution of a political party, provided that as a whole they disclose its aims and intentions (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, § 58, and Socialist Party and Others, cited above, § 48).
- The Court also reiterates that a political party may promote a change in the law or the legal and constitutional structures of the State on two conditions: firstly, the means used to that end must in every respect be legal and democratic; secondly, the change proposed must itself be compatible with fundamental democratic principles. It necessarily follows that a political party whose leaders incite to violence or put forward a policy which fails to respect democracy or which is aimed at the destruction of democracy and the flouting of the rights and freedoms recognised in a democracy cannot lay claim to the Convention’s protection against penalties imposed on those grounds (see, mutatis mutandis, Socialist Party and Others, cited above, §§ 46 and 47; Partidul Comunistilor (Nepeceristi) and Ungureanu, cited above, § 46; Yazar and Others v. Turkey, nos. 22723/93, 22724/93 and 22725/93, § 49, ECHR 2002-II; and Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above, § 98).
- The Court nevertheless considers that a State cannot be required to wait, before intervening, until a political party has seized power and begun to take concrete steps to implement a policy incompatible with the standards of the Convention and democracy, even though the danger of that policy for democracy is sufficiently established and imminent. The Court accepts that where the presence of such a danger has been established by the national courts, after detailed scrutiny subjected to rigorous European supervision, a State may “reasonably forestall the execution of such a policy, which is incompatible with the Convention’s provisions, before an attempt is made to implement it through concrete steps that might prejudice civil peace and the country’s democratic regime” (see Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above, § 102).
- The Court points out that the adjective “necessary”, within the meaning of Article 11 § 2, implies a “pressing social need”. Accordingly, the Court’s overall examination of the question whether the dissolution of a political party on account of a risk of democratic principles being undermined met a “pressing social need” (see, for example, Socialist Party and Others, cited above, § 49) must concentrate on the following points: (i) whether there was plausible evidence that the risk to democracy, supposing it had been proved to exist, was sufficiently and reasonably imminent; and (ii) whether the acts and speeches imputable to the political party formed a whole which gave a clear picture of a model of society conceived and advocated by the party which was incompatible with the concept of a “democratic society” (see Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above, § 104).
- A Contracting State may be justified under its positive obligations in imposing on political parties, which are bodies whose raison d’être is to accede to power and direct the work of a considerable portion of the State apparatus, the duty to respect and safeguard the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention and the obligation not to put forward a political programme in contradiction with the fundamental principles of democracy (ibid., § 103).
- Prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may only be justified in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order, thereby undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The fact alone that a party advocates a peaceful change of the Constitution should not be sufficient for its prohibition or dissolution.