Turkey: conviction of human rights defenders a blow to the rule of law

The ICJ deplores today’s conviction of former Amnesty International Turkey President Taner Kılıç, and former Chair of Human Rights Agenda Association Günal Kurşun, former Director of Amnesty International Turkey İdil Eser and human rights defender Özlem Dalkıran by the Istanbul 35th Heavy Penal Court, on clearly unfounded terrorism charges.

“These convictions, which were clearly revealed to be baseless during the trial, are an alarming setback to efforts to restore the rule of law in Turkey,” said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser for the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.

“This prosecution and conviction constitute harassment of human rights defenders, in violation of a number of Turkey’s international legal obligations. The Turkish authorities should be protecting human rights and supporting the important work of human rights defenders, but instead we have witnessed a continuing pattern of arrests on human rights defenders in the country,” he added.

Taner Kılıç has been sentenced to six years and three months of imprisonment for “membership of a terrorist organization. Günal Kuşun, İdil Eser and Özlem Dalkıran were sentenced to one year and 13 months of imprisonment for “assisting a terrorist organisation”. This decision was taken by majority, with one dissenting opinion that called for their acquittal.

The Court acquitted the other defendants in the case: Nalan Erkem, İlknur Üstün, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Veli Acu, Nejat Taştan et Şeyhmus Özbekli.

On 6 June 2017, Taner Kiliç, then President of Amnesty International Turkey was arrested on spurious terrorism charges. The other human rights defenders were arrested while attending a training in Istanbul on digital security and information management; also reported arrested were two trainers (reportedly a German and a Swedish national) and the owner of the training venue.

In Turkey, anti-terrorism offences are oftentimes abused and are applied in over-extensive terms to charge and prosecute human rights defenders and political dissenters, as it occurred in this case. The ICJ has highlighted this problem in several reports, including in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council on the universal periodic review of Turkey.