(Istanbul) – The decision by a Turkish court on February 1, 2018, to keep the human rights defender Taner Kılıç in pretrial detention less than 24 hours after ordering his provisional release shows the politicized and arbitrary nature of the justice system in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said today. Kılıç, a lawyer and chair of the board of Amnesty International’s Turkey section, has been detained since June 2017 on trumped-up terrorism charges.
“The court’s sudden U-turn and decision to send Taner Kılıç back to pretrial detention less than a day after ordering his release is an insult to justice,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey’s authorities should drop the charges against Kılıç and release him at once.”
On January 31, the 35th Istanbul Heavy Penal court ruled that Kılıç could be released from pretrial detention while his case continued. But overnight the prosecutor appealed the decision and a second court, the 36th Istanbul Heavy Penal court, ordered Kılıç’s detention by police. On February 1, the original court reversed its decision to release Kılıç, and sent him back to pretrial detention.
Kılıç faces charges of being a member of what the Turkish government describes as the Fethullahist Terror Organization. The government claims that the movement of United States-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen is behind the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, and labels it a terrorist organization. Using the country’s overbroad antiterrorism laws, Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of people over alleged Gülenist links.
The appeal court decision by 36th Istanbul Heavy Penal court, seen by Human Rights Watch, cites as justification for allowing the prosecutor’s appeal allegations that Kılıç had a secure messaging application used by the Gülen movement downloaded on his phone, and refers to his bank account at Bank Asya, as well as his role in organizing a human rights workshop in Istanbul. None of this indicates any evidence of criminal wrongdoing that would justify holding anyone in pretrial detention or support criminal charges, Human Rights Watch said.
Kılıç strongly denies that he has any personal affiliation with the Gülen movement. His defense team has submitted technical evidence to the court showing that the app was never downloaded on his phone.
Kılıç is a founding member of Amnesty Turkey and has been chair of its board of directors since 2014. He has also played a strong role in advocating refugee rights as a lawyer, and among domestic nongovernmental groups and others working on these issues.
A group of 10 other human rights defenders, including the director of Amnesty Turkey, face charges similar to Kılıç’s. Eight of the group spent months in pretrial detention after police detained them in July 2017 at the workshop Kılıç is accused of helping to organize. They were released in October. In addition, Osman Kavala – a businessman and leading civil society figure known for his peace and reconciliation initiatives and support for the arts – has been in pretrial detention since November, on politically motivated charges including alleged involvement in the failed coup.
“No-one should be in any doubt that the case against Kılıç is part of a politically motivated campaign to discredit the work of human rights defenders and groups at a time when their scrutiny is needed most,” Williamson said. “The courts in Turkey should be upholding rights and the rule of law, not acting as agents for state repression.”