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Eleven human rights defenders were prosecuted in the Büyükada case, named after the island in Istanbul where ten were detained at a human rights education workshop in July 2017. They are (from top left row by row): Nalan Erkem, İdil Eser, İlknur  Üstün, Günal Kurşun, Taner Kılıç, Nejat Taştan, Özlem Dalkıran, Peter Steudtner, Ali Gharavi, Veli Acu, Şeyhmus Özbekli.  © 2020 Amnesty International

(Istanbul) – The conviction of four human rights defenders on July 3, 2020, without evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, is politically motivated and an effort to stifle the legitimate work of Turkey’s human rights movement, Human Rights Watch said today. 

Istanbul Assize Court no. 35 convicted Taner Kılıç, Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair, on charges of membership of a terrorist organization, sentencing him to six years and three months in prison.  The court convicted three others on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and imposed prison sentences of 25 months. The three are: İdil Eser, Amnesty Turkey’s former director; Özlem Dalkıran, a rights activist and member of NGO Citizens’ Assembly; and Günal Kurşun, member of the Human Rights Agenda Association.  The court acquitted seven others though the prosecutor has stated he will appeal against the acquittal of two among them, Nejat Taştan and Veli Acu. The four convicted are currently at liberty while they appeal the verdict.

“In three years the police and prosecutors have produced not a shred of evidence of criminal activity by any of the 11 rights defenders who stood trial,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Four have been convicted for their legitimate human rights work in another trial which demonstrates how any independence in Turkey’s justice system has collapsed under political pressure.” 

Kılıç was first detained in Izmir on June 6, 2017, and days later placed in pretrial detention, where he spent 14 months. His case was combined with that of ten other rights defenders detained on July 5, 2017 in a police raid on a human rights education workshop they were participating in on Büyükada Island, Istanbul. A German and a Swedish national were among the defenders.

All 11 were subjected to a concerted media smear campaign suggesting that they were involved in a conspiracy to foment chaos in the country and alleging that they had links with a number of outlawed organizations. The media pursuing the smear campaign were closely aligned with the government and made allegations against the defendants before the prosecutor’s office had prepared an indictment against them and during their trial. Their first trial hearing was in October 2017, and the court issued its verdict at the 13th hearing. 

The decision cited no grounds for the convictions, and Human Rights Watch is awaiting the court’s full reasoned decision.  

The indictment against Kılıç alleged that he had used the encrypted communication application ByLock on his phone. The app is alleged to have been used by supporters of the Fethullah Gülen movement, which Turkey deems a terrorist organization responsible for the July 2016 coup attempt. Several expert reports during the trial demonstrated that Kılıç had never had or used the app.

In the case against the ten defendants detained on Büyükada, the indictment cited ephemera gathered from their laptops and phones, none of it amounting to evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

“The court’s verdict convicts four people but is an attack on the entire human rights movement in Turkey,” Williamson said. “We hope the higher courts will do their duty and reverse this miscarriage of justice.”

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