Human rights defenders threatened with death

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), expresses its deepest concern about recent death threats against four executives of the Human Rights Association in Turkey (Insan Haklari Dernegi - IHD).

According to the information received, Mrs. Kiraz Biçici, vice-president of IHD, Mrs. Eren Keskin, chairperson of the Istanbul Branch of IHD, Mr. Doğan Genç, member of the General Executive Board of IHD, and Mr. Şaban Dayanan, Board member of the Istanbul Branch of IHD, received death threatening letters at their home and offices, on April 19 and April 21, 2005.

These letters were signed by an armed ultra-nationalist group called the Turkish Revenge Brigade (Türk İntikam Tugayı - TIT), which claimed responsibility for the armed attack perpetrated against the IHD headquarters in Ankara in 1988, during which the then IHD President, Mr. Akın Birdal, was very seriously wounded after having been shot with six bullets (See Observatory Annual Report 1998-1999). According to the authors of the letters, the recipients might not be as lucky as him, who survived this attack.

The letters also referred to the events that occurred in Mersin, South-Eastern Turkey, on March 21, 2005, after a group of children swept a Turkish flag. These events led to an upsurge of ultra-nationalist activity in Turkey; for instance, on April 6, 2005, five activists distributing leaflets in the northern city of Trabzon, protesting against solitary confinement and isolation in Turkey’s prisons, were reportedly nearly lynched by a mob which thought they were burning a Turkish flag. The authors of the above-mentioned letters stated that every provision must be made to protect the Turkish flag, which is, according to them, "a symbol of a nation’s history written with blood".

Moreover, these threats followed other threatening letters that were sent to the IHD headquarters’ email addresses during the last two months.

The Observatory is deeply concerned about those threats which contribute to seriously deteriorate the situation of Turkish human rights defenders, in particular IHD members, who are already subjected to different kinds of pressure (intimidation, judicial harassment, surveillance, etc.).

The Observatory calls on the Turkish authorities to :

- Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mrs. Kiraz Biçici, Mrs. Eren Keskin, Mr. Doğan Genç and Mr. Şaban Dayanan, as well as all other IHD members and Turkish human rights defenders;

- Conduct an independent enquiry into those events, so as to identify those responsible, bring them to trial and sanction them according to law;

- Ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its articles 1, which states that "everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms" and 12.2, which provides that "the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration";

- Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by Turkey.

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