Turkey: Four human rights defenders convicted under terrorism charges

06/07/2020
Urgent Appeal
en tr

New information
TUR 005 / 0717 / OBS 078.8
Conviction /
Acquittal
Turkey
July 6, 2020

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

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the conviction of Messrs. Taner Kılıç, founding member and Honorary Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, and Günal Kurşun, former Chairperson and lawyer with the Human Rights Agenda Association, and Mses. Özlem Dalkıran, member of the Citizens’ Assembly, and İdil Eser, former Director of Amnesty International Turkey, as well as the acquittal of Messrs. Veli Acu, member of the Human Rights Agenda Association, Ali Gharawi and Peter Steudtner, security consultants, Nejat Taştan, member of the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, and Şeyhmus Özbekli, trainee lawyer and member of the Rights Initiative, and Mses. Nalan Erkem, lawyer with the Citizens’ Assembly, and İlknur Üstün, member of the Women’s Coalition.

According to the information received, on July 3, 2020, during the last hearing in the case against the eleven defenders, the Istanbul 35th High Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Taner Kılıç to six years and three months in prison for “membership to a terrorist organisation” and Mses. Özlem Dalkıran and İdil Eser and Mr. Günal Kurşun to one year and 13 months in prison for “assisting a terrorist organisation”. The other seven human rights defenders prosecuted under the same case, namely Messrs. Veli Acu, Ali Gharawi, Peter Steudtner, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli and Mses. Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün, were all acquitted. Convicted human rights defenders expressed their intention to appeal the decision. If their sentences are confirmed by the higher court, they will face risk of imprisonment.

The Observatory firmly condemns the conviction of Messrs. Taner Kılıç and Günal Kurşun and Mses. Özlem Dalkıran and İdil Eser, as it only aims at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

As regards Messrs. Veli Acu, Ali Gharawi, Peter Steudtner, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli and Mses. Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün, the Observatory welcomes their acquittal but recalls that they should never have been prosecuted and arrested in the first place, as their detention was arbitrary and the judicial harassment against them only aimed at punishing them for exercising their legitimate human rights activities.

Background information:

On July 5, 2017, Ms. Nalan Erkem, Ms. Özlem Dalkıran, Ms. İlknur Üstün, Ms. Idil Eser, Mr. Günal Kurşun, Mr. Veli Acu, Mr. Nejat Taştan, Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli, Mr. Ali Gharawi and Mr. Peter Steudtner were arrested and detained in different police stations across Büyükada, Istanbul, following a police raid during a digital security and information management workshop organised by the Human Rights Joint Platform in Büyükada. The owner of the hotel where the workshop was being organised was also arrested and released on July 6, 2017. Under Turkey’s state of emergency, they were not given access to their lawyers and family for at least 24 hours. On July 6, 2017, after 24 hours, their detention was extended for seven days.

On July 10 and 11, 2017, Ms. Nalan Erkem, Ms. Özlem Dalkıran, Ms. İlknur Üstün, Ms. Idil Eser, Mr. Günal Kurşun, Mr. Veli Acu, Mr. Nejat Taştan and Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli’s houses were raided and searched by the police, who seized electronic equipment including flash disks, external disks, CDs and sim cards. According to search warrants, the police were looking for evidence to substantiate the Prosecutor’s allegation of “meeting with a suspicion of terrorist activity”. However, due to the confidentiality of the investigation neither copy of search warrants nor of seized materials were given to their lawyers. Furthermore, some searches took place without the presence of lawyers. Ms. Nalan Erkem’s apartment search was postponed until a representative of Istanbul Bar Association was able to assist, the next morning. Likewise, Mr. Nejat Taştan was briefly taken out of custody to open the door of his apartment in order to allow police search. Despite his objection, they carried out the search without the presence of a lawyer.

On July 11, 2017 Istanbul’s Terror and Organised Crime Investigation Bureau’s Prosecutor extended the pre-trial detention period of the ten human rights defenders for seven more days to complete his investigation. The Prosecutor also ordered the confidentiality of the investigation, thus preventing lawyers to access the files.

On July 18, 2017, the Public Prosecutor at Çağlayan Court House formally charged the ten human rights defenders on charges of “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organisation without being a member”. However, neither the Prosecutor nor the Judge referred to any specific organisation nor to any criminal provision. Moreover, as the investigation remained confidential for a while, lawyers could not access their clients’ files.

Despite the request of the Prosecutor to indict and place in pre-trial detention all ten human rights defenders on July 17, 2017, the Court ordered the release on judicial control of Ms. Nalan Erkem, Ms. İlknur Üstün, Mr. Nejat Taştan and Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli. Yet on July 21, 2017, the Public Prosecutor at Çağlayan Court House ordered their re-arrest. Ms. Nalan Erkem and Ms. İlknur Üstün were arrested on July 22, 2017 at midnight.

On July 24, 2017, Mr. Nejat Taştan went to the Prosecutor’s Office in Istanbul, and had to wait until 3 a.m. on July 25 at the İstanbul Courthouse, which eventually ordered his release on judicial control.

On July 25, Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli appeared at the Diyarbakır Court House, where the Judge also ordered his release on judicial control. They were both under obligation to show up at the police station twice a week and a travel ban was imposed on them.

On August 1, 2017, the Criminal Court of Peace in Istanbul refused to release Mr. Ali Gharavi, Mr. Peter Steudtner, Mr. Günal Kurşun, Mr. Veli Acu, Ms. Özlem Dalkıran, and Ms. İdil Eser.

Respectively on July 18, 2017, Mr. Veli Acu and Mr. Günal Kurşun, on July 31, 2017, Ms. Idil Eser, Ms. Özlem Dalkıran and Ms. Nalan Erkem, and on August 1, 2017 Mr. Ali Gharawi and Mr. Peter Steudtner were transferred to Silivri prison in Istanbul.

On October 16, 2017, the Heavy Penal Court in Istanbul accepted the bill of indictment against the ten human rights defenders initially issued on October 4, 2017 by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The ten human rights defenders were charged with “assisting an armed terrorist organisation” under Articles 314.2, 314.3, 220.6, 53.1 and 58.9 of the Turkish Penal Code as well as Articles 3 and 5 of the Anti-Terror Law n°3713, and requested 15 years’ imprisonment against them.

On October 16, 2017, the case of Mr. Taner Kılıç was merged to this indictment who is, in addition to the above-mentioned first set of charges, accused of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” under articles 314.2, 53.1, 314.3 and 63.1 of the Turkish Penal Code as well as Articles 3 and 5 of the Anti-Terror Law n°3713.

The bill of indictment was not immediately notified to the human rights defenders and their lawyers, who were first informed through the media on October 8, 2017. Their lawyers were notified of the indictment on October 16, 2017.

On October 25, 2017, the Heavy Penal Court in Istanbul ordered the provisional release of Mr. Veli Acu, Ms. Idil Eser, Ms. Özlem Dalkıran, Mr. Günal Kurşun, Mr. Ali Gharawi, Mr. Peter Steudtner, Ms. Nalan Erkem and Ms. İlknur Üstün. However, the court ordered a travel ban against Ms. Özlem Dalkıran, Mr. Veli Acu, Mr. Nejat Taştan and Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli. Additionally, the Court subjected Ms. Özlem Dalkıran and Mr. Veli Acu to a judicial control. They both had to report twice a month to police stations. The judicial control over Mr. Nejat Taştan and Mr. Şeyhmus Özbekli was lifted on October 25, 2017.

On October 26, 2017, a Court in Izmir ordered the continued pre-trial detention of Mr. Taner Kılıç, pending further investigation.

On January 31, 2018, Istanbul’s 35th High Criminal Court ordered the release of Taner Kılıç under travel ban. However, the Prosecutor appealed the Court’s decision to Istanbul’s 36th High Criminal Court, which then issued a new arrest warrant for Taner Kılıç. Mr. Taner Kılıç was eventually released on August 15, 2018, upon decision of Istanbul’s 35th High Criminal Court.

On November 27, 2019, during the 10th hearing of their case, the Prosecutor suggested Istanbul’s 35th High Criminal Court to convict Messrs. Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Nejat Taştan and Mses. Idil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran over charges of “assisting an armed terrorist organisation”, under Articles 220/7 and 314/2 of the Penal Code as well as Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law no. 3713. Additionally, Mr. Taner Kılıç was asked to be convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation” under Article 314/2 of the Penal Code as well as Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law no. 3713. Their lawyers stated in the hearing that the Prosecutor’s considerations did not have any incriminating basis and were only based on incidents including depositing money to a bank that is allegedly connected to a terrorist organisation, and being in contact with and making bank transfers to individuals allegedly connected to terrorist organisations. One of those, for instance, was a bank transfer for the payment of legal fees. The lawyers also underlined that the Prosecutor’s considerations did not take into account any evidence submitted to the Court following the issuance of the indictment, such as acquittal from terrorism charges of some of those individuals, who were allegedly connected to terrorist organisations. On the other hand, the Prosecutor recommended the acquittal of Messrs. Ali Gharawi, Peter Steudtner, Şeyhmus Özbekli and Mses. Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Turkey asking them to:

i. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Taner Kılıç, Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Ali Gharawi, Peter Steudtner, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli and Mses. Özlem Dalkıran, İdil Eser, Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün and against all human rights defenders in Turkey;

ii. 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, 6(a), 9, 11 and 12.2;

iii. 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, Fax: +90 (312) 525 58 31. Email: contact@tccb.gov.tr
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Abdülhamit Gül. Email: info@adalet.gov.tr. Fax: +90 (0312) 419 33 70
· 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. Fax: + 32 2 511 04 50. 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, July 6, 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

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