Turkey: Court of Cassation upholds conviction of 14 members of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association

18/09/2020
Urgent Appeal
en tr

New information
TUR 006 / 0620 / OBS 063.2
Conviction /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Turkey
September 18, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Turkey.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the Court of Cassation of Turkey’s decision to uphold prison sentences of Mses. Ayçan Çiçek, Ayşegül Çağatay, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Naciye Demir, Şükriye Erden, Yağmur Ereren, Yaprak Türkmen and Zehra Özdemir, and Messrs. Ahmet Mandacı, Aytaç Ünsal, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu, Özgür Yılmaz and Süleyman Gökten, and to further examine the cases of Mses. Barkın Timtik and Ezgi Çakır and Mr. Selçuk Kozağaçlı, all prominent human rights lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği - ÇHD).

According to the information received, on September 15, 2020, the Court of Cassation of Turkey upheld the sentence of 14 ÇHD lawyers prosecuted under terrorism related charges (see background information), arguing that evidence against the lawyers were obtained in compliance with the law and that, although it is not criminalised to represent members of a so-called “terrorist organisation” as a lawyer, the convicted lawyers acted to protect the terrorist organisation and its members "in a way that exceeds right to defence".

After this final ruling, the 14 lawyers were sentenced to: 13 years and six months in prison for Mr. Özgür Yılmaz; 12 years in prison for Mr. Behiç Aşçı and Ms. Şükriye Erden; 10 years and six months in prison for Messrs. Aytaç Ünsal, Engin Gökoğlu and Süleyman Gökten; nine years in prison for Mses. Ayçan Çiçek and Naciye Demir; three years and nine months in prison for Mses. Ayşegül Çağatay, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Yağmur Ereren and Yaprak Türkmen; three years, one month and 15 days in prison for Mr. Ahmet Mandacı and Ms. Zehra Özdemir.

As of today, Ms. Aycan Çiçek and Messrs. Barkın Timtik, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı remain in detention. ÇHD lawyer Ms. Oya Aslan also remains in detention while the case against her, which was separated from the other cases, is still pending. As for Mr. Aytaç Ünsal, whose health severely deteriorated recently due to his death fast for a fair trial, the execution of his prison sentence was suspended on September 3, 2020 (see background information) and will be until his treatment ends.

Additionally, the Court of Cassation overturned the lower court’s decision sentencing Ms. Barkın Timtik to 18 years and nine months in prison and Mr. Selçuk Kozağaçlı to 11 years and three months in prison, on the basis that their cases should be reviewed in conjunction with other pending cases against them under terrorism charges. The Court of Cassation as well overturned the lower court’s decision sentencing Ms. Ezgi Çakır to eight years in prison, on the basis that she should be sentenced on charges of "aiding an organisation knowingly and willingly" instead of "membership to terrorist organisation".

Regarding the case of ÇHD lawyer Ms. Ebru Timtik, who was also prosecuted under terrorism-related charges, the Court of Cassation stated that there was no ground to hand down a judgement for her, considering she lost her life on a death fast for a fair trial on August 27, 2020 (see background information).

The Observatory is appalled by this ruling and condemns the conviction of Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Ayşegül Çağatay, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Naciye Demir, Oya Aslan, Şükriye Erden, Yağmur Ereren, Yaprak Türkmen and Zehra Özdemir and Messrs. Ahmet Mandacı, Aytaç Ünsal, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu, Özgür Yılmaz and Süleyman Gökten, as well as the continuing judicial harassment of Mses. Barkın Timtik and Ezgi Çakır and Mr. Selçuk Kozağaçlı, which appear to be only aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities as human rights lawyers.

Th Observatory further condemns the continuing arbitrary detention of Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Barkın Timtik and Oya Aslan and Messrs. Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı, as it only aims at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities as human rights lawyers.

Th Observatory calls on the Turkish authorities to release the six imprisoned human rights lawyers and to put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Turkey.

Background information:

In the last months of 2017, 17 of the above-mentioned members of the ÇHD, were arrested and later detained on terrorism-related charges for representing clients in cases such as Soma and Ermenek mining massacres, forced re-locations due to urban transformation projects, police violence and torture incidents, and others being prosecuted for their opinions.

Over the course of the trial, their right to a fair trial was regularly violated, and the case was based on “evidences” such as the statement of an anonymous witness and their prison visits to their clients. On September 14, 2018, all 17 detained lawyers were released by İstanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court, after a week of hearings. Nevertheless, the same panel of judges ordered the re-detention of 12 lawyers and confirmed the release of the five others, less than 24 hours following their initial decision, after the Prosecutor contested the decision. Subsequently, the panel of judges who had ordered their release was taken from the case and moved to other courts. Six of the 12 lawyers, namely Ms. Aycan Çiçek and Messrs. Ahmet Mandacı, Aytaç Ünsal, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı were effectively re-arrested in the following days.

On March 20, 2019, İstanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court sentenced Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Ayşegül Çağatay, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Ebru Timtik, Ezgi Çakır, Naciye Demir, Şükriye Erden, Yağmur Ereren, Yaprak Türkmen and Zehra Özdemir and Messrs. Ahmet Mandacı, Aytaç Ünsal, Barkın Timtik, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu, Özgür Yılmaz, Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Süleyman Gökten, to between three years, one month, 15 days and 18 years, nine months in prison under terrorism-related charges. This ruling was upheld by İstanbul Court of Appeals on October 8, 2019.

On February 5, 2020, Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Oya Aslan and Ebru Timtik and Messrs. Aytaç Ünsal, Barkın Timtik, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı announced they were on a hunger strike, demanding fair trials both for their clients and themselves. While six of them stopped their strike during the process due to health reasons on March 10, 2020, Ms. Ebru Timtik and Mr. Aytaç Ünsal continued their hunger strike. Both of them decided to turn it into an indefinite death fast on April 5, 2020, Lawyers’ Day in Turkey. On August 27, 2020, Ms. Ebru Timtik died in custody as a result of her death fast, after 238 days of hunger strike[1].

On September 3, 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation suspended the execution of Mr. Aytaç Ünsal’s sentence and ordered his release due to the deterioration of his health condition and until he recovers. On September 4, 2020, Mr. Aytaç Ünsal subsequently announced that he was ending his hunger strike.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Turkey asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Barkın Timtik and Oya Aslan and Messrs. Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı,as well as of all human rights defenders in Turkey;

ii. Release immediately and unconditionally Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Barkın Timtik and Oya Aslan and Messrs. Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı, as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Turkey, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Ayşegül Çağatay, Barkın Timtik, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Ezgi Çakır, Naciye Demir, Oya Aslan, Şükriye Erden, Yağmur Ereren, Yaprak Türkmen and Zehra Özdemir and Messrs. Ahmet Mandacı, Aytaç Ünsal, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu, Özgür Yılmaz, Selçuk Kozağaçlı and Süleyman Gökten, and all human rights defenders in Turkey;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 12;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Turkey.

Addresses:

· President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Email: contact@tccb.gov.tr
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Abdülhamit Gül. Email: info@adalet.gov.tr .
· Minister of Interior, Mr. Süleyman Soylu. Email: diab@icisleri.gov.tr ; sti@icisleri.gov.tr
· Ambassador Mr. Mehmet Kemal Bozay, Diplomatic Mission of Turkey to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. Email: info@turkdeleg.org; tr-delegation.eu@mfa.gov.tr
· Ambassador Mr. Sadık Arslan, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: turkey.unog@mfa.gov.tr

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Turkey in your respective country.

***
Paris-Geneva, September 18, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29


[1]See Observatory Press Release “Turkey: Authorities are responsible for Ebru Timtik’s death in custody”, published on August 28, 2020.

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