Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Turkey engages in abduction of Turkish nationals living abroad through secret agreements with other states according to UN letter

July 11, 2020

Turkish nationals who were abducted in Kosovo were kept for a time at the Turkish embassy premises.

On 9 July 9, 2020 the Nordic Monitor higlighted the shocking news that the Turkish government has signed bilateral security cooperation agreements with multiple states that were phrased ambiguously to allow for the expulsion or abduction of Turkish nationals living abroad, This is based on a joint UN letter on 5 May 2020.

Four UN rapporteurs/experts sent a joint letter to the Turkish government to express their concern about the “systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple States to Turkey.

Joint UN letter on systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of Turkish nationals from multiple States to Turkey, see: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25209

The Government of Turkey, in coordination with other States, is reported to have forcibly transferred over 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey, of which 40 individuals have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly abducted off the streets or from their homes all over the world, and in multiple instances along with their children,” the letter said.

Nordic Monitor previously reported how the content of Turkey’s security agreements has changed in parallel to the transformation of national legislation and that the new documents contained ambiguous copy-paste phrases designed to suppress government opponents outside the country.

[The Turkish] Government has signed bilateral security co-operation agreements with multiple States allegedly containing broad and vague references to combatting terrorism and transnational crime. Sources claim that the agreements have been phrased ambiguously to allow for expulsion or abduction of anyone deemed to be a ‘security risk’ from third countries party to the agreements. There appears to be a clear link in the timing of the alleged operations – most, if not all, have been carried out within two years since the agreements entered into force. For instance, allegations are made that Turkey has signed secret agreements with several States, including Azerbaijan, Albania, Cambodia and Gabon, where several operations are reported to have taken place,” the letter stated….

Furthermore, rapporteurs, with reference to statements by Turkish officials, exposed the fact that over 100 alleged members of the Gülen movement have been abducted abroad by Turkish intelligence and brought back to Turkey as part of the Turkish government’s systematic global manhunt.

“Turkish authorities have not only acknowledged direct responsibility in perpetrating or abetting abductions and illegal transfers, but have also vowed to run more covert operations in the future. On September 21, 2018, it is alleged that Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson stated during a press conference that the Government would continue its operations against the Hizmet Movement, similar to the one in Kosovo (March 29, 2018).”….

We note in this respect that deprivation of nationality for the sole purpose of facilitating expulsion or removal goes against international law norms and standards. Finally, we wish to highlight that violations of international human rights obligations resulting from these agreements engage Turkey’s responsibility under international law as well as the third countries parties to the agreements” the letter said….

https://www.nordicmonitor.com/2020/07/turkey-signed-secret-agreements-with-several-states-to-conduct-state-sponsored-extraterritorial-abductions-a-joint-un-letter-underlines/

That Turkey takes an aggressive stand on anything that smacks like terrorism was made clear again on 7 July 2020 when Turkey’s Foreign Ministry slammed recent remarks by Sweden’s foreign minister against Turkey’s military operation in northeastern Syria while meeting via videolink with members of the PYD/YPG/PKK terrorist organization.  

Essentially this meeting was not the first in which Ann Linde came into contact with members of the terrorist organization. She previously held talks with members of the terrorist organization and participated in activities organized by people associated with the terrorist organization,” the ministry said late Thursday in a statement.

It is a shame that so-called human rights defenders, who are becoming an instrument to the terrorist organization’s smear campaign, ignore the massacres, crimes and oppression…committed by these terrorists in Syria,” it stressed. [what the term “human rights defenders” here means is not clear] – https://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkey/turkey-slams-swedish-fm-for-meeting-with-terror-group/1905510

The unholy wisdom of invoking sovereignty

July 6, 2020

When writing about human rights defenders one comes regularly across invocations of “sovereignty”. Erdogan now uses the hyperbole for Hagia Sophia.

A recent example was India’s reaction to the UN High Commissioner’s amicus curiae brief [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/05/indias-overblown-notion-of-sovereignty-no-to-un-advice-for-supreme-court/] and a recurring one is China [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/]. The USA feels also strongly: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/12/trump-issues-new-sanctions-on-the-icc-and-human-rights-defenders/.

On 4 July 2020 Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a fervent nationalist – rejected criticism over his willingness to convert Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia landmark into a mosque despite international and domestic concern. “Charges against our country over Hagia Sophia are a direct attack on our right to sovereignty,” Erdogan said. (Interestingly the same day an Istanbul court convicted human rights defenders [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/06/istanbul-court-jails-four-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-charges-seven-acquitted/]). 

We will never resort to seeking your permission or your consent,” he said last month in a retort to warnings from other countries on the Hagia Sophia. “Do you rule Turkey, or do we?”

Turkey’s top court is considering whether the museum can be redesignated as a mosque. Many scholars (not just Greek) think this is a terrible idea: https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/07/06/more-than-300-scholars-across-the-world-appeal-to-turkey-not-to-convert-hagia-sophia-into-a-mosque/.

Moreover, in order to change its status, a decision will have to be made by the Unesco intergovernmental committee. The Art Newspaper understands that the date of Unesco’s next committee meeting has not been set. Unesco declined to comment further regarding the Turkish government’s plans but Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Unesco’s assistant director for culture, told Greek press last month that “before any decision can be taken to change the status of a Cultural Heritage Monument, such as Hagia Sophia, a decision of the relevant Unesco intergovernmental committee is required”. He added that Unesco had written to Turkish authorities in June outlining its concerns but had not yet received a reply.

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/europe/1593782667-erdogan-interference-over-hagia-sophia-direct-attack-on-our-sovereignty

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/turkish-government-on-collision-course-with-unesco-over-hagia-sophia-mosque-initiative

Istanbul court jails four human rights defenders on terror charges; seven acquitted

July 6, 2020

Having announced the trial last Friday [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/03/will-long-running-saga-of-trial-against-the-istanbul-10-end-on-friday-3-july/] I need to report also on the outcome although it was widley reported in the media.

A Turkish court on Friday convicted Taner Kilic, former chairman of Amnesty International, of membership in a terror organisation and sentenced him to over six years in prison. (AP)

Arab News on 4 July 2020 reported that human rights activists, including a former head of Amnesty International’s Turkish branch, have been jailed by an Istanbul court on terror-related charges in a decision condemned as an “outrage” by fellow campaigners. Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair Taner Kilic was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “terror organization membership. Gunal Kursun from the Human Rights Agenda Association; Idil Eser, former executive director of Amnesty International Turkey; and Ozlem Dalkiran, former head of Amnesty International’s communications department, were each handed jail terms of one year and 13 months for “aiding a terror organization.”

The prosecution claimed that the hotel gathering was a “secret meeting to organize an uprising,” in order to trigger a “chaos environment” in the country – a claim categorically denied by the defendants.

Amnesty International has described the case as a travesty of justice. The defendants are now expected to appeal the verdict in the case dubbed the ‘Buyukada trial.”

Other human rights activists, including Nalan Erkem, lknur Ustun, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Veli Acu, Nejat Tastan and Seyhmus Ozbekli, were acquitted.

Another disappointing court verdict against civil rights and civil society in Turkey. Not how we put our relations on a positive track. My thoughts are with imprisoned and families. Solidarity with democratic forces in Turkey!” tweeted Sergey Lagodinsky, chair of the EU-Turkey delegation at the European Parliament. Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, voiced concerns that Turkey is targeting and silencing human rights defenders.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, who observed the hearing, said the verdict is an outrage based on absurd allegations without any evidence and is supported by a pro-government media smear campaign.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1700036/middle-east

https://ahvalnews.com/buyukada-case/four-human-rights-activists-given-prison-sentences-buyukada-case

Will long-running saga of trial against the Istanbul 10 end on Friday 3 July?

July 3, 2020

From the start, this has been a politically-motivated trial’Idil Eser© Amnesty International (Foto: Jordi Huisman)

The verdict in the trial of Amnesty Turkey’s chair, the organisation’s former Turkey director and nine other human rights defenders, is expected tomorrow. The key hearing will begin at 8.00am BST (10.00am local time) on Friday 3 July at Istanbul Heavy Penal Court, No 35.

Taner Kılıç, Idil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran, Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Nejat Taştan, Nalan Erkem, İlknur Üstün, Şeyhmus Özbekli, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner are all on trial for baseless terrorism charges.

Over the course of 11 earlier hearings spread over nearly three years, ‘terrorism’ allegations against all 11 defendants have been repeatedly and categorically disproven, including – ironically – by the state’s own evidence. The prosecution’s attempt to present legitimate human rights activities as unlawful acts has comprehensively failed, said Amnesty. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/16/turkey-who-will-defend-the-human-rights-defenders/.]

In August 2018, after more than 14 months in prison, former Amnesty Turkey Chair Taner Kılıç was released on bail. Eight of the others spent almost four months each behind bars before they were released in October 2017.

At the tenth hearing in November 2019, the prosecutor requested acquittal for five of the 11, and convictions for the remaining six.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/06/ali-gharavi-of-the-istanbul10-speaks-about-his-experience-and-his-hope/.

In the meantime, on 2 June 2020, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights spoke out on the independence of lawyers in Turkey: “I have taken note with concern of a bill recently submitted to the Turkish Parliament containing amendments to the Turkish Law No. 1136, which affect lawyers and their professional associations. The proposed changes would notably allow for a plurality of bar associations in provinces with large numbers of lawyers and modify the election procedures of bar associations and their Union. These changes raise particular concerns when seen against the background of the serious problems I identified in my latest report on Turkey published in February 2020. These problems include a hostile and repressive atmosphere affecting civil society in Turkey, of which professional associations, such as bar associations, are a very important part; the glaring lack of consultation and involvement of civil society in policy-making and legislation; and the very difficult situation, including undue judicial pressure, faced by lawyers in Turkey both as  human rights defenders and as a fundamental part of an increasingly hostile judicial system.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/turkey-verdict-expected-long-running-trial-amnesty-chair-and-ten-others

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-s-concerns-about-proposed-changes-affecting-the-legal-profession-in-turkey

Intimidating break-in into the house of Turkish human rights defender Eren Keskin

June 18, 2020

Unknown perpetrators broke into Human Rights Association (İHD) Co-Chair Eren Keskin‘s house yesterday (June 16) to “threaten and intimidate her”, the association has said in a written statement.

Pretending to be burglars, the perpetrators ransacked the house but did not steal anything, according to the statement. The incident happened when Keskin was not at home and the police came to the house and made examinations. It was found after the police’s examination that a ring was taken and left on the table in the living room in what the İHD said was “a message” to the lawyer.

The incident was directly aimed at “threatening and intimidating” Keskin, according to the association. “She is known for clearly and fearlessly expressing her thoughts. For this reason, she often faces investigations and cases that we can call ‘judicial harassment.

“Our association will make the necessary applications nationally and internationally and will closely pursue the case. We remind the government of its duties with regards to the protection of human rights defenders in Turkey and would like to express that the government will directly be responsible for any unfavorableness that may develop.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/eren-keskin-in-turkey-sentenced-to-prison-and-more-to-come/

https://youtu.be/HOk0ykxtU-s

Rights Defender Eren Keskin Deposed over Her Tweets from Five Years Ago

http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/225874-unknown-perpetrators-break-into-rights-defender-eren-keskin-s-house

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/home-human-rights-lawyer-eren-keskin-broken

Faces of Hope Campaign: Human Rights Defenders Imprisoned Worldwide

May 25, 2020

Defending the right to housing for vulnerable communities, exposing corruption and torture, speaking up against injustice, raising their voices for the rights of indigenous peoples or of minorities, upholding miners’ rights, peacefully demonstrating against discrimination or for access to clean water. All are legitimate ways to affirm our common rights. And yet, such activities have led many human rights defenders around the world to prison.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, detention may come with serious risks. Like other inmates, defenders face overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, with basic protective measures a distant dream. Worse, they may be denied access to health care as a form of punishment. These brave people are among the most exposed to contracting the virus, and among the least likely to receive proper treatment.

Following UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s call to governments to “release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection, OMCT launched in May 2020 a global campaign calling for the release of all human rights defenders detained worldwide, including those in pre-trial detention.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/29/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-bachelet-calls-for-restraint-in-governments-covid-emergency-powers/

Human Rights Defenders work to ensure journalists are free to keep us informed about how our governments are responding to the pandemic and about the effects of quarantine measures; they denounce the abuse of power and police violence that can result from the state of emergency; they champion the needs of discriminated communities; they call on States to protect our housing and labour rights as jobs disappear; they demand that women’s sexual and reproductive rights not be neglected as healthcare systems focus on the virus. In short, human rights defenders make sure no one is left behind.

…..Let’s bring this solidarity to all the arbitrarily detained human rights defenders whose lives are at risk. Join our campaign and ask for their release using #FacesOfHope. They need us. And we need them too.

Meet the #FacesOfHope:

PHILIPPINES: Teresita Naul

EGYPT: Ibrahim Ezz El-Din

GUATEMALA: Jorge Coc Coc and Marcelino Xol Cucul

INDIA: Safoora Zargar

CAMEROON: Mancho Bibixy Tse

PERU: Walter Aduviri Calisaya

TURKEY: Selçuk Kozağaçlı

AZERBAIJAN: Elchin Mammad

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/2020/05/d25823/

Ali Gharavi of the “#Istanbul10” speaks about his experience and his hope

May 6, 2020

Ali Gharavi is a consultant working with human rights defenders, their organisations and communities. He is one of ten people who were arrested in Turkey in July 2017 at an information management and well-being workshop on Buyukada island. The hashtag #Istanbul10 was used in the sustained advocacy efforts that called for the dropping of all charges against them and their immediate release. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/16/turkey-who-will-defend-the-human-rights-defenders/]

In March 2020, ahead of an anticipated – but since postponed – verdict hearing, Ali spoke with IFEX Regional Editor Cathal Sheerin about how his experience being arrested in Turkey and jailed for four months has affected his life and informed his work. “While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10″ (interview published through a partnership between Global Voices and IFEX).

Ali Gharavi. Credit Annie Game
CS: How do you feel about the upcoming hearing? I feel a combination of anticipation and anxiety. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions over the last almost three years and the verdict was supposed to have been reached at the last hearing. In terms of realistic outcomes, we’ve talked about two or three possibilities with our families, lawyers and the authorities in Sweden. I’ve been trying to keep my wits about me and not putting all my eggs in one basket, but we’re pretty optimistic that the outcome could be acquittal.

What makes you optimistic for acquittal? I’m only nominally optimistic really because these things can turn on a dime. At the hearing before the last one, the prosecutor said that – of the ten of us plus Taner Kılıç – he would accept acquittal for five because of lack of evidence, but the rest he wanted to convict. I was in the acquittal group. All of us are quite adamant, however, about not having this ‘split’ decision.

Why do you think you were divided into two groups? It’s really hard to say. Two of us in the acquittal group – Peter Steudtner and I – are not Turkish, so it’s possible that they want to remove the international angle from all of this. However, that’s just my speculation. It’s actually quite arbitrary, and I think this is partly because they have no evidence. It might even be a way to ramp this down: Let’s acquit half of them now and then acquit the rest in a trickle.

…..
How aware were you when you were detained of the advocacy that was taking place on your behalf? What impact did it have on your morale? Maintaining my morale was one of the biggest challenges for me. I was held at four different sites. At one point, they transferred us to the anti-terrorism headquarters for interrogation, which sounds like – and was – quite a harrowing experience. ……

I’ve done letter-writing campaigns in the past, and I never knew for sure if they had any effect on the people who were in jail, but having been on the inside, I can say that those moments were life-saving. Sometimes my lawyer would search for my name on Twitter and print out all the tweets that had been posted that week about me; there was also this Twitter campaign, #haikusforAli, and demonstrations in Brussels, sit-ins in front of embassies. All of those moments reminded me that people on the outside were thinking of me and mobilising. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those were the things that saved me when I was in the depths of an abyss.

How has the experience affected how you work?  The kind of work I’d been doing was intended exactly for this kind of situation, where you need to pay attention to the whole person, not just their devices or the organisation’s activities. Because of my incarceration, I now understand that at a molecular level. For me, the whole experience has placed a higher premium on understanding people – who they are, where they are – as a big part of how we can actually help them regardless of whichever aspect of their work we’re trying to assist them with. One thing the experience revealed was how inadequately resourced and researched care and crisis response is: how do you care for not just the person incarcerated, but also his family, the community around him, his colleagues?

Once the crisis is ‘over’ the assumption is that life goes on as usual, whereas there’s actually recovery that needs to be done. Often there’s also a massive financial burden due to legal costs and the inability to work for a while. After my release I went to Berlin and arrived into a very supportive debriefing environment. It’s a very privileged situation to be in – those ten days were very helpful in making me understand that I’d be going through this trauma and recovery and that it’s not just business as usual. There was a crowd-funder created for me so that I didn’t just have to drop back into work, and there was physical and psychological therapy too. I knew it intellectually, but now I know it viscerally, that just because you get released the trauma doesn’t just go away. It takes years to be functional again. People assume that when you recover you’re going to go back to being who you were, but that’s not true.

Would you ever return to Turkey? It would be very difficult for me to feel safe there, but I would go, if only in order to ‘get back on the horse’. If the verdict doesn’t go the way we expect, then I’d be incarcerated if I turned up there, so I obviously wouldn’t return. I love Turkey – the people and the environment – and I feel like a big part of my life and friends is now off-limits to me. But I dream of when I’ll be able to go back, hug the people who were inside with me and eat baklava with them. As Cicero said: ‘While I breathe, I hope.’

The humanity of what I experienced in detention was humbling. Regardless of why those people were incarcerated with me, they – that young 19-year-old who spoke to me in German, and others – were an amazing source of inspiration and support. During the toughest times I’d be angry with them, but they were amazingly unwavering. I’ve heard via word of mouth that those two supposed ISIS members are now back with their families and all is well. I owe them a big debt of gratitude.

Most of the time I was incarcerated alongside political prisoners who faced trial on specious charges, or who had been (and continue to be) detained for years on end as they wait for an indictment. And now we hear that despite the mortal threat of COVID-19 sweeping through the prison system, those prisoners will stay behind bars.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/20/corona-virus-threatens-human-rights-defenders-in-detention-egypt-and-turkey/]

‘While I breathe, I hope’: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

Corona virus threatens human rights defenders in detention: Egypt and Turkey

March 20, 2020

Human rights defenders are often kept in detention and that is bad enough, but with the Covid-19 pandemic this risks killing many of them. Overcrowded prison conditions are such that infection is bound to occur. Following a request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Tehran released 85,000 prisoners, including many political prisoners, in an attempt to help stop the spread of the virus. China, Italy and Bahrain also have released prisoners over coronavirus concerns.

Now a coalition of human rights groups, activists, and politicians, including former Tunisian President Moncef Marzuki, sent a letter to UN Secretary and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging the prisoner releases after the first case among prisoners was confirmed in Egypt. …..”Even more worrying in this time of pandemic, prisoners are crammed in cells that are so small that they have to wait for their turns to lay down and sleep,” the letter read.

Coronavirus: Egypt detains novelist Ahdaf Soueif for demanding prisoners’ release

On Wednesday the Egyptian government’s reaction was – surprise, surprise – to detain four activists who staged a protest calling for the release of prisoners in the country. The writer Ahdaf Soueif protested in front of the cabinet building in Cairo, alongside academic Rabab al-Mahdi, Soueif’s sister and academic Leila Soueif, and her niece, activist Mona Seif. Mona Seif live streamed the protest on Facebook, recording a confrontation with police officers who reportedly asked them to stop and “discuss the matter” at a police station…..On 19 March the Middle East Eye reported that Laila Soueif remained in custody late on Wednesday but the three others were freed. This comes as Egyptian prosecutors on Thursday ordered the release of 15 political dissidents, including a prominent academic arrested as part of a crackdown on nationwide protests in September. Mona Seif, Laila Soueif’s daughter, is the sister of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a left-wing activist currently in pre-trial detention.

President Erdoğan’s government in Turkey has rejected calls from human rights organizations to release inmates from two overcrowded prisons despite detection in those facilities of the coronavirus, which has caused the death of more than 8,000 people around the world. A purge of thousands of dissidents in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016 has filled Turkey’s prisons, which today are overcrowded with tens of thousands of political prisoners…On Wednesday Erdoğan announced a number of measures to battle the spread of the coronavirus following an emergency meeting convened to coordinate the fight. Yet the release of prisoners was not among the measures disclosed by the Turkish president.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament and one of Turkey’s most prominent human rights defenders, revealed how he received news from Edirne Prison that three prison guards tested positive there for COVID-19, as a result of which the prison was put under quarantine. A day later, Balıkesir’s Kepsut Prision was also quarantined, Turkish media reported. “A short while ago my husband called and informed me that contamination in a cell had been detected and that they had put everyone in quarantine,” the wife of an inmate told reporters. On March 16 Gergerlioğlu launched a campaign for the release of all prisoners starting with those at greatest risk and submitted a parliamentary question directed to the Ministry of Justice about health conditions in the country’s prisons.

—–

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-united-nations-rights-groups-request-prisoner-release

https://pen.org/press-release/egyptian-writer-detained-for-protesting-prison-conditions-that-could-worsen-covid-19-spread/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-egypt-releases-bail-four-women-who-called-releasing-prisoners

https://ahvalnews.com/amnesty-bill/turkey-excludes-sex-offenders-early-prison-release-after-outcry-columnist-says

https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Turkey/Journalism-in-times-of-COVID19-an-update-from-Turkey-200596

 

http://bianet.org/english/law/222239-27-rights-organizations-call-on-turkey-to-release-jailed-journalists

Turkey: who will defend the human rights defenders?

February 16, 2020

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International, wrote on 14 February 2020 a moving piece on the detention and suffering of her fellow human rights defenders in Turkey.

Some moments in life are forever etched in our minds. Everyone recalls where they were when they heard their favourite rock star died, or how they felt around the birth of a child. For me, 6 June and 5 July 2017 are two dates that will forever be on my mind. They are the days when I learned that my friends and colleagues, human rights defenders, had been detained by Turkish police…On 6 June 2017, I was in Istanbul on a work visit, meeting with journalists and lawyers ahead of the start of the trial of two writers. It had almost been a year since the attempted and bloody military coup of July 2016. The Turkish government had responded with a sweeping crackdown on dissenters from all backgrounds, which was continuing to gather pace. I was with the editor of a small newspaper when I heard that my colleague Taner Kılıç had been detained. I will never forget the sinking feeling during those first moments. Trying to make sense of the nonsensical is always difficult. Knowing about the crackdown had not prepared me for how I’d feel when someone I knew was caught up in it.

…..

It was around 8pm on 5 July when I saw several missed calls from a colleague in Turkey. When I rang back, I learned that Amnesty’s Director in Turkey, Idil Eser, and nine others were in detention after being arrested  while attending a workshop on the island of Buyukada. My friend and sister Ozlem was among them. I recall vividly the ensuing hours, making frantic calls to whoever I could think of to try and find out where they were and what was going on. How could people be arrested for attending a human rights workshop? It made no sense.

…….

This week, I will be in Istanbul for the verdict in the case of Taner and the Buyukada 10. If found guilty of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, they could face up to 15 years behind bars. At the last hearing in November, I was in the courtroom when the state prosecutor requested that Taner and five of the Buyukada 10 – Idil, Ozlem, Gunal, Nejat and Veli – be convicted, and recited those initial absurd allegations that had been destroyed under the weight of the evidence their defence had provided. This included the allegation that Taner had the secure messaging app ByLock on his phone. Since the coup attempt the authorities have used this allegation against tens of thousands of people to try to prove they were part of an armed terrorist organization. In Taner’s case it was proven to be baseless, including by the state’s own reports to the court. In fact, after 10 hearings in the case, all the accusations made against them have been shown, one by one, to be entirely baseless. How is it possible that the state is still asking for the convictions of our colleagues and friends? The situation facing them is not unique. Their situation is in many ways emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life prison for them… [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/29/turkey-defies-european-court-on-kavala-and-undergoes-upr-review/]

I have been in that courtroom for this trial ever since it began. Each time, the absurdity of the prosecution and the complete lack of evidence of any crime having been committed – let alone under terrorism laws – struck everyone in attendance as reserved to the pages of a nightmarish novel. When I walk into the Istanbul courtroom next week, I know there is only one outcome that could deliver justice.  Taner, Ozlem, Idil, Nala. Seyhmus, Ilknur, Ali, Peter, Veli, Gunal and Nejat must all be acquitted. For defenders of human rights, for our friends, for human rights in Turkey, this is the only way just end to this long saga.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/who-will-defend-the-defenders/

Turkey defies European Court on Kavala and undergoes UPR review

January 29, 2020

FILE - A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.
A journalist stands in front of a poster featuring jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala, during a press conference given by his lawyers, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2018.

Kavala and 15 other civil society activists are accused of supporting anti-government protests in 2013 against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president. The protest action came to be known as the Gezi movement, named after an Istanbul park where the unrest started. Prosecutors are calling for life imprisonment without parole. The ECHR condemned the case, calling for an end to Kavala’s more than two years in prison and describing it as “arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

The Istanbul court ruled Tuesday the ECHR decision was provisional because Ankara was appealing the verdict and that Kavala should remain in jail. The court’s decision is flawed because the European Court ruling was clear in its call for Kavala’s immediate release,” said Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

We saw multiple signs of how unfair this trial is,” said Webb, speaking after attending Tuesday’s court hearing. “The lawyers for Kavala raised many objections to the way witness evidence is used in this case. The court turns a deaf ear to all objections. It’s a shocking indication that once again, Turkey’s judiciary seems to be under heavy pressure of the executive.”

Tuesday’s court hearing was marred by chaos, with Kavala’s lawyers challenging the judge’s decision to hear some witnesses without their presence, prompting the lawyers to walk out of the room. Ankara strongly rejects the ECHR verdict, maintaining that the judiciary is independent. But observers note the case has strong political undertones. Three months ahead of Kavala’s prosecution, Erdogan accused him of “financing terrorists” and that Kavala was a representative for “that famous Jew [George Soros,] who tries to divide and tear up nations.” Erdogan did not elaborate on the comments about George Soros, who is an international philanthropist. Erdogan’s allegations against Kavala resemble the prosecution case against the jailed activist. Kavala is a pivotal figure in Turkey, using his wealth to help develop the country’s fledgling civil society after a 1980 military coup.

“Osman Kavala is very prominent within the civil society in this country,” said Sinan Gokcen, Turkey representative of Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. “He is not a man of antagonism; he is a man of preaching dialogue, a man of building bridges.”….

With the U.N. having few tools to sanction Turkey, the European Union is seen as offering the best hope by human rights advocates of applying pressure on Ankara. Turkey’s EU membership bid is already frozen, in part due to human rights concerns. But Ankara is seeking to extend a customs union, along with visa-free travel for its citizens with the EU. “It’s time all European countries should be speaking out very loud and clear on cases like this [Kavala],” said Sinclair-Webb. But even high-profile cases like Kavala’s have seen Brussels offer only muted criticism of Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Istanbul Friday for talks with Erdogan saw little criticism of Turkey’s human rights record. Instead, discussions focused on Ankara’s recent deployment of soldiers to Libya and the upholding of an EU-Turkish agreement controlling migrants entering Europe. “There are many issues to talk about with Turkey,” said Sinclair Webb. “Syria, Libya, Turkey, hosting so many refugees from Syria, and this often takes priority over Turkey’s domestic human rights crisis. This means there isn’t sufficient clarity on cases like this. What we are seeing is Turkey defying Europe’s human rights court.” Some analysts suggest Brussels could yet be lobbying behind the scenes for Kavala’s release, tying Ankara’s calls for extra financial assistance for refugees to gestures on human rights.

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https://www.voanews.com/europe/turkish-court-defies-europe-leaves-philanthropist-behind-bars