Dr. Alp Ayan Trial: State sponsored harassment of Human Rights Defender

Press release

In the framework of their joint program, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the FIDH and the OMCT, sent a judicial observer to attend the third hearing of the case against Dr Alp Ayan, a Turkish psychiatrist and member of the Izmir Center for the Rehabilitation of the Torture Victims of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), charged both for having “insulted Turkish Armed Forces” and for having “insulted the Ministry of Justice” under article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Other international observers were present at the hearing before the Izmir Penal Court of First Instance, on April 24 at 9.50 am: Mr Torben Lund, Danish member of the European Parliament and representatives of various international organisations, including IRCT, Amnesty International, the International Physicians for the Protection of Nuclear War, and the Berlin Centre for the Treatment of torture victims.

The Observatory is once again alarmed to note that Dr Ayan has been charged for his activities to promote human rights, in this instance, for participating in a protest meeting on February 10, 2002 where he read a press release denouncing torture and inhuman detention conditions in Turkish prisons. This press release criticized not only the inhuman detention conditions in F-type prisons, but also condemned the actions of the police during a transfer of political prisoners into F-type prisons on December 19, 2000, which resulted in 32 deaths.

The Court ruled yesterday that the case was beyond its jurisdiction, arguing that the amendments to article 159 of the Penal Code were adopted after the crime was committed . The Heavy Penal Court, previously in charge of the case, had also decided that the case was beyond its jurisdiction according to the same above-mentioned amendments. The Penal Court therefore decided to send the case to the Court of Cassation to solve the conflict of competences.

The Observatory remains concerned that this trial is another manifestation of State sponsored harassment of members of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (See Observatory International and Legal Observation Mission Report - Turkey - Judicial Harassment Against human Rights Defenders - December 2002). This procedure against Dr Alp Ayan forms part of a larger set of criminal proceedings against members of TIHV who have been relentlessly harassed and currently face criminal charges over their involvement in the prison crisis in Turkey.

Background information on F-type prison in Turkey
The Turkish Parliamentary Human Rights Commission has repeatedly concluded that excessive and disproportionate use of force had been used on the occasion of military operation in the prisons since 1995 in Turkey.

In the early morning hours of December 19, 2000, over 10.000 members of the Turkish security forces commenced a simultaneous military raid into twenty prisons across Turkey. “Operation Return to life”, as this planned military intervention was called, aimed to enforce the transfer of over a thousand prisoners into Turkey’s newly constructed “F-type” prisons and halt the widespread hunger strikes and “death fasts” of political prisoners who had been protesting against the introduction of F-type prisons since October 2000.

FIDH and OMCT are deeply concerned by the absence of thorough and independent inquiry aiming at clarify the use of disproportionate and excessive use of force, and in particular the allegations of use of tear gas grenades and gas with a neurological effect used by the security forces in the course of the operation. Rather than initiating investigations into the actions of the security forces, the Turkish State has instead commenced investigations against the prisoners themselves and increase pressure on all NGOs that have voiced concerns about “Operation Return to Life” and have expressed their disapproval of the F-type prison’s regime of isolation and the increased likelihood of torture and ill-treatment in these prisons.

The European Commission has recently proposed a “road map” to Turkey, which, if followed, would allow it to join the European Union. In this context, Turkey is notably urged to put into practice measures to fight against the use of torture and guarantee “in practice” prisoners’ defence rights. In addition, on 12 March, the European Parliament issued a draft report on “Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union” urging, amongst other requests, that an amnesty be granted to those imprisoned for their opinions who are serving their sentences in Turkish prisons for expressing non-violent sentiments”.

The Observatory urges the Turkish authorities to:

- Ensure that the charges against Dr Alp Ayan and the other defendants be dropped;

- Put an end to judicial harassment against human rights defenders and in particular ensure that similar charges against activists for having protest against the poor detention condition in the country be dropped, since they only aim is to sanction their activities as human rights defenders;

- Abide by the provisions of the Declaration on the Protection of human Rights Defenders adopted on the 9th of December 1998, by the UN General Assembly (“Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms”) particularly, Article 1 “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international level”.

- To comply with the provisions of all human rights instruments ratified by Turkey as well as with the Copenhagen criteria allowing for
membership in the European Union.

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