Turkey: Provisional release on health grounds of Mr. Aytaç Ünsal

07/09/2020
Urgent Appeal
en tr

New information
TUR 006 / 0620 / OBS 063.1
Provisional release /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Turkey
September 7, 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 provisional release on health grounds of Mr. Aytaç Ünsal, a prominent human rights lawyer from the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği - ÇHD), who was on a hunger strike for 213 days, asking for his right to a fair trial be respected.

According to the information received, on September 3, 2020, the 16 th 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.

Mr. Aytaç Ünsal’s health indeed critically deteriorated over the last days of his detention due to the hunger strike he began on February 3, 2020 demanding fair trials both for his clients and himself after he and 17 of his colleagues were convicted under terrorism related charges (see background information). The Observatory recalls that his colleague Ms. Ebru Timtik, had also gone on a hunger strike for the same reasons, and 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] .

The Observatory welcomes Mr. Aytaç Ünsal’s provisional release but recalls that he should never have been detained in the first place, his detention being arbitrary as it only aimed at sanctioning his legitimate human rights activities as a human rights lawyer. The Observatory is further concerned that the Court of Cassation’s ruling leaves space for Mr. Aytaç Ünsal to continue serving his prison sentence when his health situation improves and if his sentence is upheld by the Court of Cassation.

The Observatory further recalls that 17 other human rights lawyers from ÇHD remain prosecuted 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.

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

The Observatory calls on the Turkish authorities 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.

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, 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 and is now pending before the Court of Cassationof Turkey. If their sentence is upheld by the Court of Cassation, all convicted lawyers will go to prison to serve their sentences.

On February 5, 2020, Mses. Aycan Çiçek, Oya Aslan andEbru Timtikand 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.

As of today, Ms. Aycan Çiçek and Messrs. Barkın Timtik, Behiç Aşçı, Engin Gökoğlu and Selçuk Kozağaçlı remain in detention. Ms. Oya Aslan also remains in detention while the case against her, which was separated from the other cases, is still pending.

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 and Oya Aslan and Messrs. Barkın Timtik, 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 and Oya Aslan and Messrs. Barkın Timtik, 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, Didem Baydar Ünsal, Ezgi Çakır, Naciye Demir, Oya Aslan, 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, and all human rights defenders in Turkey;

iv. Ensure that the case of the 17 ÇHD lawyers before the Court of Cassation is reviewed with due respect of their right to a fair trial while recognising the serious violations of this right during the trial and appeal phases;

v. 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;

vi. 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 7, 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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