Turkey: Judicial harassment of Ms. Eren Keskin

20/01/2020
Urgent Appeal
en tr

TUR 001 / 0120 / OBS 002
Judicial harassment
Turkey
January 20, 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.

Description of the information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continuing judicial harassment of human rights lawyer and co-president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Ms. Eren Keskin [1]. An honorary member of the Paris Bar Association, Eren Keskin is the winner of multiple international awards for her peace and human rights work, including the 2018 Helsinki Civil Society Award [2], and was the 2018 finalist of Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [3].

According to the information received, on January 13, 2020, the 15th hearing of the main trial in Özgür Gündem newspaper case was held before the Istanbul 23rd Heavy Penal Court. The prosecutor asked Ms. Eren Keskin and two other defendants to be convicted of "membership to a terrorist organisation" (Article 324/2 of the Criminal Code and Article 5/1 of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713). The prosecutor alleged that Ms. Eren Keskin promoted the objectives of the terrorist organisation through her articles published in the newspaper and other articles published during her chief editorship. All three defendants are facing a prison sentence of 7 years and 6 months to 15 years. The prosecutor also asked two other defendants to be convicted of "terrorist propaganda" (Article 7(2) of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713). The two defendants are facing a prison sentence of 1 year and 10 months to 9 years and 3 months. Additionally, the prosecutor asked the acquittal of two defendant for lack of sufficient evidence against them. The case of the remaining two defendants, was asked to be separated as they have not yet presented their defense. The next hearing in this case will be held on February 14, 2020.

Since 2016, Ms. Eren Keskin and eight other defendants, which includes columnists, rotating editors-in-chief and advisory board members of the closed newspaper Özgür Gündem, have been facing charges for “disrupting the unity of the state”, “incitement to commit crime”, “membership to a terrorist organisation”, “terrorist propaganda” and “publishing and spreading statements of terrorist organisations” in relation to articles published in Özgür Gündem (see background information below).

The Observatory firmly condemns the ongoing judicial harassment of Ms. Eren Keskin, as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her human rights activities and her legitimate exercise of her right to freedom of expression.

Background information:

From 2013 to 2016, Ms. Eren Keskin held the title of editor-in-chief for Özgür Gündem (‘Free Agenda’) and also joined the “co-editor-in-chief” campaign, which was organised between May and August 2016, to support the imprisoned editorial staff of the newspaper. Özgür Gündem newspaper was shut down by the Emergency Decree no. 675 on October 29, 2016 over “terrorist propaganda” allegations.

In the aftermath of the solidarity campaign, criminal investigations were launched against 49 people, who held the title of co-editor-in-chief for Özgür Gündem, and criminal cases were launched against 38 of them. Many columnists of the newspaper also face criminal cases for their articles published in the newspaper.

A total of 143 cases, some of which were later combined, have been lodged against Eren Keskin in relation to her editorship in the newspaper. In addition, the case known as the Özgür Gündem main trial started in December 2016, in which five advisory board members, as well as four editors-in-chief of the newspaper, have been facing charges for “disrupting the unity of the state”, “incitement to commit crime”, “membership to a terrorist organisation”, “terrorist propaganda” and “publishing and spreading statements of terrorist organisations” in relation to articles published in Özgür Gündem. On October 10, 2018, during the 10th hearing of this case, the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court lifted Ms. Eren Keskin’s international travel ban. However, she still has a travel ban issued against her in other cases and investigations.

To date, Ms. Keskin was sentenced to a total of 17.5 years in prison and over 400,000 TL (around 60,000 Euros) in fines. Out of the files imposing fines on Ms. Keskin, judicial remedies were exhausted for the fines amounting to more than 300,000 TL (around 45,000 Euros) - and Ms. Keskin already started to pay that amount thanks to national and international solidarity - while the prison sentences and the remainder of the fines are still pending before the Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation.

In addition, Eren Keskin’s ongoing work as a human rights lawyer has also been challenged: the legal team of the Office of the President of Turkey filed an application to the Istanbul Bar Association in August 2018 requesting the Bar to launch a disciplinary investigation against Ms. Keskin, which may result in disbarment. The investigation is still pending.

Actions requested:
 
Please write to the authorities of Turkey asking them to:
 
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Eren Keskin;
ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Eren Keskin and against all human rights defenders in Turkey;
iii. 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;
iv. 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, 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 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, January 20, 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] For almost thirty years, she has contributed to the protection of minority rights, countered violence against women, and campaigned to challenge militarism and end torture. She is the founder of a legal office providing pro bono services for transgender persons and women who were raped or sexually abused by the national security forces.
[2] See https://www.nhc.nl/helsinki-civil-society-award-2018-goes-to-eren-keskin/
[3] See FIDH Press Release published on May 13, 2019: https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/turkey/turkey-fidh-supports-the-human-rights-activist-eren-keskin

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