Human Rights Watch's Letter to the President of Turkey
April 20, 2005

Human Rights Watch is alarmed at recent death-threats directed at three staff members from the Istanbul branch of the Turkish Human Rights Association (HRA).

The letter accuses the three of insulting the Turkish flag, encouraging armed separatism, and acting as “agents of Europe and the USA.” The groundless allegations and the threats appear to be related to the wave of nationalist violence in Turkey over the past two months. The violence has been linked to supposed insults to the national flag by dissident citizens.

The threats deserve an urgent and convincing official response. Extrajudicial killings and “disappearances” have claimed the lives of thirteen members of the Human Rights Association over the past 14 years. It is not clear to what extent the Turkish Revenge Brigade is a continuous and distinct organization, but certainly several fatal and near-fatal attacks have been carried out in its name. These include the murders of parliamentary deputy Mehmet Sincar and the journalist Ferhat Tepe in 1993, and the attack on Akin Birdal, president of the Human Rights Association in 1998. These same members of the Istanbul branch of the HRA who have just received threatening letters had narrowly escaped an armed attack by a lone gunman in 2001.

Human Rights Watch calls on you to ensure that these threats are investigated urgently by the Istanbul prosecution service. The three human rights defenders have told Human Rights Watch that they commonly receive threats by telephone but are particularly alarmed that these written threats arrived by post at their respective home addresses. It is unclear how the TIT obtained their home addresses, which are never disclosed to the public. Since officials from the Human Rights Association are often required to submit their personal details to the police authorities, inquiries should be made to establish whether or not the Istanbul police passed the addresses on to others. In light of the conviction of a former gendarmerie officer with links to TIT for the 1998 assault on HRA president Akin Birdal, prosecutors should also investigate whether police officers were directly involved in making the threats.

We also urge you to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to protect the three HRA officials in accordance with Article 12.2 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which calls on states to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.” Any protective measures should be chosen in consultation with the HRA.

Most importantly, in view of the serious nature of the threats, the past murders carried out in the name of this illegal armed organization, and the current context of nationalist violence, we urge that a high-level and public statement be made, affirming the legitimacy and value of the work of human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Association, and condemning the death-threats made against its staff.

Sincerely,

Rachel Denber
Acting Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Cc:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Deputy Minister and State Minister for Human Rights Abdullah Gul
Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu