GENEVA (14 July 2017) - A group of United Nations experts* has today called on the Government of Turkey to immediately release nine human rights defenders and two foreign trainers who are being questioned over alleged membership of a terrorist organization.
Ten of the detainees, including the director of Amnesty International in Turkey, Ms. Idil Eser, were attending a workshop for human rights defenders on 5 July when they were held.
The experts expressed concern at reports that a confidential investigation has been opened by the Prosecutor against the group, preventing defence lawyers from accessing the case files, and at reports that a smear campaign is being conducted against them.
Their detention comes only a month after Mr. Taner Kiliç, who has chaired Amnesty International in Turkey since 2014, was also detained with six other lawyers in the western city of Izmir.
“The arrest of these human rights defenders, including prominent figures, is a further illustration of the witch-hunt taking place in Turkey,” the experts said in a joint statement. “They are among thousands of people currently in detention on terrorism charges, along with political activists, lawyers, journalists and others critical of government policy.”
The experts added: “The Turkish authorities are constantly citing security considerations, in particular the fight against terrorism and the need to avoid another attempted coup, to justify targeting dissent and criticism. This is having the effect of curtailing people’s rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and is particularly alarming.”
“These rights should be restricted only when strictly necessary in a democratic society and when proportionate to the interest being protected.”
The experts warned that the overall human rights picture in Turkey was continuing to worsen.
“We have raised the alarm over the critical situation of fundamental freedoms in Turkey on various occasions and all the signs show that it is only going to escalate,” they said.
“We call on the Human Rights Council to address the general deterioration of human rights in the country.”
The human rights defenders detained with Ms. Eser at the workshop are Ms. Nalan Erkem and Ms. Özlem Dalkýran of the Citizen’s Assembly; Mr. Veli Acu and Mr. Günal Kurºun of the Human Rights Agenda Association; Mr. Seyhmus Özbekli of the Rights Initiative; Ms.Ilknur Üstün of the Women’s Coalition; and Mr Nejat Taºtan of the Equal Rights Watch Association. The two detained trainers are Mr. Ali Gharawi of Sweden and Mr. Peter Steudtner of Germany.
(*) The experts: Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur freedom of peaceful assembly and association; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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