D is a journalist who had worked for the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman and the press agency Cihan, both perceived by the Turkish government as supporting the Gülen movement which was designated a terrorist organization (FETÖ). In the wake of an attempted coup in July 2016, D was dismissed and his press accreditation revoked. Fearing further reprisals, he boarded a lorry in October 2016, crossed into Bulgaria and was apprehended close to the Romanian border.
Despite expressing his fear of return, at no point did the Bulgarian officers assess the risk he faced in Turkey. He was refused access to both a lawyer and interpreter and was forced to sign documents he did not understand. Within less than 24 hours, D was handcuffed and handed over to the Turkish authorities who held him in detention. He was later tried and convicted of membership of FETÖ and sentenced to seven and a half years. This conviction relied heavily on the fact that D had the Bylock application on his cell phone, considered by Turkish courts as tantamount to affiliation to the Gülen movement.
Although he had not specifically requested asylum in front of the Bulgarian authorities, the court clarified that if the state was made aware of facts that could expose an individual to risk of ill-treatment on return in breach of article 3 ECHR (prohibition of torture), it was incumbent on the state to assess such a risk of its own motion. Additionally, the court found the authorities had acted in extreme haste, failing to comply with domestic procedures, and rendering the available remedies redundant so that D was unable to challenge the removal, breaching article 13 ECHR (right to an effective remedy).
The applicant’s case was supported by Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria and PRO ASYL.