A human rights defender released, others remain prosecuted

Press release

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), welcomes the decision to release Mr. Ali Öncü, spokeperson of the Diyarbakir Democratic Plateform and Chairperson of TES-Is, one of the largest workers’ union in Turkey, by the Diyarbakir Heavy Penal Court Number 6, on July 13, 2006.

Mr. Öncü, along with Mr. Necdet Atalay, member of the Human Rights Association (HRA), Mr. Edip Yasar, member of the Diyarbakir Branch of the HRA and Chairman of Tum Bel-Sen, an union of officials of municipalities, and Messrs. Resit Yaray and Mursel Kayar, respectively board member and member of the HRA Batman Branch, were charged in April 2006 with "assisting and supporting illegal organisations" under articles 314/3, 220/6-7, 314/2, 58/9, 63 of the Turkish Penal Code, after they attended the funerals of Kurdish rebels killed by the army on March 24, 2006 (See Observatory Urgent Appeals TUR 001/0406/OBS 045 and OBS 045.1, issued on April 7, 2006 and June 20, 2006) [1] . Except for Mr. Öncü, they all remain detained in Diyarbakir D-type prison since March and April 2006. The first hearing in the trial against Messrs. Yasar, Atalay, Yaray and Kayar before the Heavy Penal Court of Diyarbakir occurred on June 29 and 30, 2006. The next ones are scheduled for July 20 and August 15, 2006.

On the eve of these new hearings to come, the Observatory, which appointed an observer to monitor the hearings in June as well as those that are scheduled in July and August 2006, expresses its deepest concern regarding irregularities and defects during the first hearings. In particular, the Prosecutor provided the judges with information pertaining to the defendants’ prior criminal convictions, contrary to the principle of the presumption of innocence.

Furthermore, during Messrs. Yasar and Atalay’s audition, a video-cassette constituting the only proof that the defendants were solely trying to calm the protestors remained in the hands of the police and was not disclosed to the defence despite repeated applications to the Public Prosecutor for disclosure, violating the legal principle of equality of arms.

Finally, the Presiding Judge dictated summaries of the defendants’ and lawyers’ statements to the stenographer instead of directly register them into the Court record, as it was done for the Public Prosecutor statement, violating the legal duty of impartiality and independence of the Court.

The Observatory recalls that the defendants were arrested and held in detention for having exercised rights and freedoms guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (İCCPR) ratified by Turkey on June 3, 2003. The Observatory considers that these arrests, detentions and judicial proceedings are arbitrary, as they blatantly violate the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and especially its article 5, which states that "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others [...] to meet or assemble peacefully" as well as regional and international human rights instruments.

These concerns, while Turkey is adopting a new anti-terror law, echo those recently expressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Terrorism, Mr. Sheinin who visited Turkey on February 16-23, 2006. The UN Special Rapporteur raised serious concerns at the very broad definition of terrorism and very long and wide list of terrorist offenses included in the new draft Anti-Terror Law adopted by the Turkish General Assembly on July29. He particularly stressed that "the limitations that result in respect of expression would not be confined to countering terrorism but could be used also in respect of non violent expression of opinion’’.

The Observatory calls upon the Turkish authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Resit Yaray, Mursel Kayar, Ali Öncü, Edip Yasar, Mecail Ozel, and Necdet Atalay. Moreover, the Observatory urges the authorities to ensure the immediate release of those who remain detained, and that their rights to a fair and impartial trial be guaranteed in any circumstances, so that the charges against them be dropped, as they are arbitrary.

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