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Turkey: Rights Defenders on Trial for Doing their Work

Prosecution Should Seek Unconditional Release and Acquittals

Human rights defenders detained by police in Istanbul on July 5, 2017. From bottom left: Nalan Erkem; Nejat Taştan; İlknur Üstün, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran, Günal Kurşun. © 2017 Bianet

Update: On October 25, an Istanbul court ordered the release on bail of eight of the human rights defenders arrested in Istanbul and held in pre-trial detention. They continue to face criminal charges and their trial will resume in November. The court ruled that the accusations against Amnesty Chair Taner Kilic linked to the Istanbul 10 should be combined with the separate case against him being tried in Izmir. On October 26, an Izmir court ruled Taner Kilic should remain in pre-trial detention. The case continues.

(Istanbul) – Eleven human rights defenders go on trial in Istanbul on October 25, 2017, facing terrorism charges despite the absence of any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Human Rights Watch said today. The prosecution should ask for the defendants to be acquitted of all charges, including membership in terrorist organizations and for the nine people in pretrial detention to be released.

“The allegations against the 11 human rights defenders on trial in Turkey for links to and even membership in terrorist organizations are unfounded, contradictory, and politically motivated,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There is no justification for holding any of the defenders in pretrial detention, and they should be released immediately.”
Ten of the defendants were detained on July 5 in a police raid on a workshop on an island near Istanbul. They are: Özlem Dalkıran, Citizens’ Assembly, a nongovernmental group; Nalan Erkem, a lawyer and Citizens’ Assembly member; İlknur Üstün, Women’s Coalition; İdil Eser, Amnesty International Turkey director; Veli Acu, Human Rights Agenda Association; Günal Kurşun, a lawyer for Human Rights Agenda Association; Şeymus Özbekli, Rights Initiative; Nejat Taştan, Equal Rights Watch Association; Ali Gharavi, a Swedish information security consultant; and Peter Steudtner, a German well-being trainer and coach.
The chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kılıç, has also been included in the case and is the eleventh defendant.
The evidence in the indictment accepted by Istanbul Heavy Penal Court no. 35 on October 17 includes random material gathered from the defenders’ phones and laptops. It includes Amnesty International campaign material, a few phone calls with individuals who are subject to other ongoing criminal proceedings, notes from a political meeting, a grant application, a map showing language groups across the Middle East and Asia, and some minor money transfers.
Kılıç had been detained a month before the police raid on the workshop and will also stand trial in a separate case in Izmir on October 26 for having an encryption app known as ByLock on his phone – which supposedly links him to the group the government accuses of last year’s attempted military coup. Kılıç denies the charge and his legal team point to two expert reports demonstrating that ByLock was never downloaded on his phone.
The prosecution fails to explain in any of the cases how the evidence cited constitutes grounds for linking the human rights defenders with terrorism, and the indictments lack any credible argument that the defendants have engaged in any form of criminal wrongdoing.
“This trial of the 11 in Istanbul and then of Taner Kilic a day later in Izmir represent an unprecedented attack on civil society in Turkey and the legitimate work of human rights defenders,” Williamson said. “Given the absence of any convincing evidence of criminal activity, the prosecution should make clear that the defendants in both cases should be acquitted.”

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