Turkey: Human Rights Defenders, Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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Paris-Geneva, June 5, 2012. 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), publishes today a report entitled “Turkey: Human Rights Defenders, guilty until proven innocent”, which analyses the situation of human rights defenders in Turkey.

The report, under EMBARGO until 5 June 2012, 12.01 Ankara Time (9.01 am GMT) is available in English at the following links:



Raporun Türkçe’sine alttaki linkten ulaşılabilir::


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TURKEY: Human rights defenders, guilty until... par Observatory_HRD

Despite major reforms and progresses over the past decade, in today’s Turkey, those who speak out on “sensitive” human rights issues remain the target of an intense criminalisation. “Sensitive” issues include promoting the right to alternative identities (ethnic and religious minorities’ rights, particularly the Kurdish issue, and sexual minorities), and criticising the State and its institutions (the functioning of the institutions, including the independence of the judiciary and the impunity of the State and the army for human rights violations). Key categories of civil society active in the defence of human rights are affected by this policy: members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) but also lawyers, trade unionists, journalists, intellectuals and academics, writers, advocates of the right to conscientious objection and family members of victims of serious violations, etc.

See press conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, 7 June 2012:

Criminalisation is made possible by the existence of repressive administrative practices and criminal provisions left unchanged by reform packages, notably in the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) and the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL). Furthermore, law-enforcement bodies, prosecutors and judges, long-accustomed to limiting freedoms and rights, continue to interpret and apply the law in a repressive manner. The ATL has been increasingly used against human rights defenders over the past years, which entails the application of a set of rules less protective of the defence’s rights. The vague definition of terrorism and its interpretation by the courts have made it possible for prosecutors and judges to consider that the mere criticism of the authorities’ human rights record may in itself be construed as a form of support to terrorist groups or evidence of membership in terrorist groups. Prolonged pre-trial detention is used very frequently and may be seen as a form of punishment per se, independently of the outcome of the trial.

Pictures of the press conference in Ankara, 5 June 2012:

“A comprehensive overhaul of the Turkish legal system is today more than needed to improve the environment of operation of human rights defenders. Justice is used as a weapon to repress, intimidate and punish human rights defenders, through criminal proceedings that blatantly violate the right to a fair trial. Today such authoritarian practices have to come to an end”, says Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

At the beginning of 2012, 105 journalists, 44 lawyers, at least 16 members of human rights organisations and 41 trade unionists were in jail, mostly under terrorism charges. The emblematic cases of sociologist Pınar Selek prosecuted since 1998, lawyer Muharrem Erbey, detained since December 2009, and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, detained during more than five months, are only the tip of this deplorable situation.

“We fear that these continuous proceedings may lead the civil society to develop a certain degree of self-censorship, precisely at a time when a strong and critical human rights community that operate under the protective reach of the law is needed", added Mr. Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT.

The Observatory respectfully urges the authorities of Turkey to pay the utmost attention to its recommendations, take the necessary steps to create and maintain a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders to operate freely and efficiently in the country, including by fully recognising the legitimate role played by human rights organisations, releasing all human rights defenders detained for exercising human rights activities, ending judicial harassment and fully investigating abuses faced by human rights defenders.

For further information, please contact:

• FIDH: Karine Appy / Arthur Manet: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

• OMCT: Isabelle Scherer: + 41 22 809 49 39

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