GENEVA (2 July 2020) A UN expert today expressed deep concern that 11 human rights defenders face charges of terrorism and up to 15 years in prison for their human rights work.
The so-called Istanbul 10, some of whom were founding members of Amnesty International in Turkey, as well as Taner Kılıç, its former chair, will hear on 3 July whether they will be prosecuted for terrorism-related activities.
“Three years since their arrest, the evidence compiled to support the charges has yet to clearly demonstrate how their activities amounted to terrorism”, said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
In July 2017 police raided a human rights workshop organised by members of the Istanbul 10 -- Ms Özlem Dalkıran, Mr Ali Gharavi, Ms İdil Eser, Mr Veli Acu, Mr Günal Kurşun, Mr Peter Steudtner, Ms Nalan Erkem, Mr Şeyhmus Özbekli, Ms İlknur Üstün and Mr Nejat Taştan -- after receiving a tip-off that they were carrying out a ‘secret meeting’. The prosecutor has attempted to link the human rights defenders to different “terrorist” organisations through circumstantial evidence gathered only after the arrest the expert said.
Kılıç, who was arrested in June 2017, has been accused of membership of a terrorist organisation for having downloaded mobile messaging application, ByLock. “Not only is the mere possession of ByLock, which boasts a million users worldwide, an insufficient justification for arrest and detention, but the Istanbul cybercrime police department and an independent expert have separately disproven allegations that it was ever on his phone,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Noting that the arrests occurred at a time of particular political sensitivity in Turkey, approaching the one-year anniversary of the 2016 coup attempt, Lawlor called on the Government and the prosecution to show strength by dismissing the charges when faced with a situation where evidence from investigations has done little to corroborate them.
The independent expert said that considering the prosecutor’s request that six of the defenders be convicted and the remaining five acquitted, the implications are far broader than the 11 individuals in question. “If any of the 11 human rights defenders receive a guilty verdict, Turkey is sending a message that no one is fully free to stand up for human rights in the country,” Lawlor said.
The expert’s call has been endorsed by Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression;Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association.
The experts are in a dialogue with Turkish authorities and will continue to closely monitor the situation.
The expert: Ms. Mary LAWLOR (Ireland) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.
The Special Rapporteurs 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.
UN Human Rights, country page – Turkey
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