Read Amnesty’s Annual Report on Turkey

Yesterday, Amnesty International released its 2020/2021 annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights. The section on Turkey, reprinted in full below, is a damning assessment of the spiraling state of human rights in Turkey. The EU and the US must make human rights a priority in all their engagements with Turkey, not only because a free, democratic Turkish society is in their best interest, but because it is simply the right thing to do.

Summary Overview

The judiciary disregarded fair trial guarantees and due process and continued to apply broadly defined anti-terrorism laws to punish acts protected under international human rights law. Some members of the judiciary and legal profession were subjected to sanctions for the legitimate exercise of their professional duties. The judicial harassment of individuals such as journalists, politicians, activists, social media users and human rights defenders for their real or perceived dissent continued.

Four human rights defenders, including Taner Kılıç, were convicted in the baseless Büyükada trial. Despite his acquittal in the Gezi trial and a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling for his release, Osman Kavala remained in prison. Comments by a senior state official against LGBTI people were endorsed by some government officials, including President Erdoğan. The ruling party threatened to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.

Legal amendments introduced in the context of COVID-19 excluded from early release individuals who had been unjustly convicted under anti-terrorism laws and those held in pre-trial detention. Credible reports of torture and other ill-treatment continued to be made.

BACKGROUND

In February, Turkey launched a military
operation (Spring Shield) against Syrian
forces after Syrian air strikes killed 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib, Syria (see Syria entry).
Concurrently, Turkey declared its borders
with the EU open, and encouraged and
facilitated the transportation of thousands of
asylum-seekers and migrants to Greece’s
land borders. Greek forces responded with
violent pushbacks, resulting in at least three
deaths. In April, the government used the
COVID-19 crisis to further crack down on the
opposition, banning several opposition-run
municipal donation campaigns and
launching investigations into pandemic
fundraising efforts by the mayors of Istanbul
and Ankara.
In March and again in October, due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Health
prohibited health workers from resigning. The measure was initially foreseen for a three month period but was later extended until further notice.
In November and December, social media
companies, including Facebook, Twitter and
Instagram, were fined 40 million Turkish liras
(more than €4 million) each for failing to
appoint a legal representative in Turkey as
required by the amended law on social
media. Companies failing to meet legal
obligations will face further sanctions,
including reduced bandwidth, making their
services unavailable in Turkey. In December,
YouTube announced it was setting up a legal
entity in the country.

STATE OVERREACH

Judiciary and lawyers
A disciplinary investigation initiated by the
Council of Judges and Prosecutors against
the three judges who on 18 February
acquitted the Gezi trial defendants, including
civil society leader Osman Kavala, was
ongoing at the end of the year. The
investigation followed the President’s public
criticism of the acquittal decision.
In July, Parliament passed a law changing
the structure of bar associations. Thousands
of lawyers protested and 78 out of 80 bar
associations signed a statement opposing the reform. The new law weakens the
associations’ authority and independence.
Criminal investigations targeting lawyers for
representing clients accused of “terrorism
related offences” continued.
In September, police detained 47 lawyers
on suspicion of “membership of a terrorist
organization”, based solely on their work. At
least 15 lawyers were remanded in pre-trial
detention. Also in September, the Court of
Cassation upheld the prison sentences of 14
lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers
Association, prosecuted under terrorism
related legislation.

REPRESSION OF DISSENT

Criminal investigations and prosecutions
under anti-terrorism laws and punitive pretrial detention continued to be used, in the absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, to silence dissent.
Under the guise of combating “fake
news”, “incitement” or “spreading fear and
panic”, the authorities used criminal law to
target those discussing the COVID-19
pandemic online. The Cyber Crimes Unit of
the Interior Ministry alleged that 1,105 social
media users had made “propaganda for a
terrorist organization”, including by “sharing
provocative COVID-19 posts” between 11
March and 21 May; reportedly 510 were
detained for questioning.
In October, the President targeted the
Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and called its new chair “a terrorist” after the TTB
repeatedly criticized the government’s
response to COVID-19.
In April, as COVID-19 spread in the
country, the government amended the law on
the execution of sentences, enabling the
early release of up to 90,000 prisoners.
Specifically excluded were prisoners in pretrial detention and those convicted under
terrorism laws.
Abusive investigations and prosecutions
targeting former parliamentarians and
members of opposition parties continued. In
June, an Istanbul Appeals Court upheld the
conviction of Canan Kaftancıoğlu, Istanbul
Provincial Chairperson of the opposition
Republican People’s Party (CHP). She was
sentenced to nine years and eight months in
prison for “insulting the President” and
“insulting a public official”, “inciting enmity
and hatred” and “making propaganda for a
terrorist organization”. The sentence referred
to tweets she had shared seven years earlier.
The case was pending before the Court of
Cassation at year’s end.
In October, 20 former and current
members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’
Democracy Party (HDP), including the Mayor
of Kars city, Ayhan Bilgen, were remanded in
pre-trial detention for their alleged role in
violent protests in October 2014. The
accusations were largely based on social
media posts from the official HDP twitter
account at the time. Following the remand in
pre-trial detention of Ayhan Bilgen, the
Ministry of Interior on 2 October appointed
the Kars Governor as trustee to Kars
Municipality. Former co-chairs Selahattin
Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ remained in
pre-trial detention as part of the same
investigation since September 2019. A new
indictment was pending at the first instance
court at the end of the year, days after the
ECtHR’s Grand Chamber called for the
immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş,
finding that his rights to freedom of
expression, liberty and security, free elections and not to be subjected to the misuse of limitations on rights had been violated.
In December, Parliament passed a new
law ostensibly to prevent the financing of the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with severe consequences for civil society organizations. The law included allowing the removal of individuals facing prosecution under anti-terrorism laws from boards of NGOs to be replaced with government appointed trustees.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION


Journalists and other media workers
remained in pre-trial detention or served
custodial sentences. Some prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws were convicted and sentenced to years of imprisonment, their legitimate work presented as evidence of criminal offences.
In March, police detained at least 12
journalists for their reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic, including journalist and human
rights defender Nurcan Baysal, who
was accused of “inciting the public to enmity
and hatred” for her social media posts. Six
journalists were imprisoned for their reporting on the funeral of two alleged intelligence officers from the Turkish National Intelligence
Agency (MIT) killed in Libya. In May, the six
detained and one other journalist were
indicted for “revealing the identities of
intelligence officers”. In September, five of
them received prison sentences for
“publishing intelligence information”.
Journalists Alptekin Dursunoğlu and Rawin
Sterk Yıldız, detained for their social media
posts in March, were released at their first
hearing in March and September
respectively. Their cases continued at the
end of the year.

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS


Dozens of human rights defenders faced
criminal investigations and prosecutions for
their human rights work.
In July, the Büyükada trial of 11 human
rights defenders concluded with the court
convicting Taner Kılıç of “membership of the
Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)”, sentencing him to six years and
three months’ imprisonment; İdil Eser, Günal
Kurşun and Özlem Dalkıran were sentenced
to “one year and 13 months” for “knowingly
and willingly supporting FETÖ”. The
remaining seven defendants were acquitted.
On 1 December, a regional appeals court
upheld the convictions of the four defenders,
who appealed to the Court of Cassation.
In February, Osman Kavala and eight other
civil society figures were acquitted of all
charges including “attempting to overthrow
the government” and allegedly “directing”
the 2013 Gezi Park protests. However,
Osman Kavala was detained on new charges
just hours after his release. In May, the Grand
Chamber of the ECtHR confirmed its
December 2019 decision calling for his
immediate release, having found his
prolonged pre-trial detention to be unlawful
and serving an “ulterior purpose”. In its
examinations of the case in September and
October and its interim resolution in
December, the Council of Europe’s
Committee of Ministers urged Turkey to
comply with the ECtHR’s ruling.
In October, an Istanbul court accepted a
new indictment against Osman Kavala and
US academic Henri Barkey, charging them
with “attempting to overthrow the
constitutional order” and “espionage”,
despite lack of evidence. In December, the
General Assembly of the Constitutional Court found no violation in relation to his ongoing pre-trial detention. Osman Kavala remained in prison at the end of the year.
In January, the Istanbul prosecutor
requested the conviction of human rights
lawyer Eren Keskin in the main Özgür
Gündem trial, along with others who had
participated in a solidarity campaign. In
February, in an interim ruling, her codefendants Necmiye Alpay and Aslı Erdoğan were acquitted. The prosecution against Eren Keskin and three other defendants continued.
In March, Raci Bilici, former chair of the
Diyarbakır branch of the NGO Human Rights
Association (IHD), was sentenced to six years and three months’ imprisonment for
“membership of a terrorist organization”,
based on his human rights work. An appeal
was pending at the end of the year.
In October, following a 2019 report by the
research group Forensic Architecture, the
trial of three police officers and an alleged
member of the armed Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK) accused of killing human rights
lawyer Tahir Elçi began almost five years after his death in Diyarbakır. The officers faced charges of “causing death by culpable
negligence”.

RIGHTS OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL,
TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX (LGBTI)
PEOPLE


In April, a senior state official at the Religious
Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) blamed
homosexuality and people in extra-marital
relationships for the spread of HIV/AIDS. He
urged followers to combat this “evil” in a
Friday sermon focusing on the COVID-19
pandemic, a call supported by the President.
Bar associations criticizing the statements
faced criminal investigation under Article
216/3 of the Penal Code that criminalizes
“insulting religious values”.


RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS


In July, the brutal murder of 27-year-old
student Pınar Gültekin led to country-wide
protests. The trial of two men accused of her
murder continued at the end of the year.
In August, suggestions by some politicians
in the ruling Justice and Development Party
(AKP) to withdraw from the Istanbul
Convention sparked country-wide
demonstrations. Women’s rights
organizations criticized the lack of
implementation of the Convention, including
an adequate response to rising domestic
violence during COVID-19 restrictions. The
Ministry of Interior announced that 266
women had died as a result of gender-based
violence in 2020, though the figures provided
by women’s organizations were much higher.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY


In March, for the second year running, the
authorities banned the International Women’s Day march in Istanbul. Police used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse peaceful protesters who had defied the ban.
The prosecution of six women accused of
“failure to disperse” under Article 32 of the
Law on Meetings and Demonstrations began
in November. The charges related to their
participation in the peaceful December 2019
Las Tesis protest to end femicide.
In June, an Ankara administrative court
ruled that banning the Pride march by
students on campus was unlawful. On 10
December, the trial of 18 students and one
academic of the Middle East Technical
University in Ankara for attending a campusbased Pride march in May 2019 was
postponed to April 2021.


TORTURE AND OTHER ILL-TREATMENT


In September, Osman Şiban and Servet
Turgut suffered severe injuries after being
detained and allegedly beaten by a large
group of soldiers in Van province, according
to Osman Şiban’s testimony. Servet Turgut
died in hospital on 30 September. Statements by the Van Governor’s Office and the Minister of Interior contradicted eye-witnesses’ and Osman Şiban’s statements. A criminal investigation into the allegations of torture opened by the Van Prosecutor was subjected to a secrecy order. In October, four journalists who covered the case were arrested in Van for being “members of a terrorist organization” on the grounds of the news agencies they worked for and of making news on “public incidents in line with PKK/KCK’s [Kurdistan Communities Union] perspective and orders to the detriment of the state”.
In December, a prisoner on pre-trial
detention at Diyarbakır prison, Mehmet
Sıddık Meşe, was denied access to urgent
medical care and to examination by medical
forensic staff after he was allegedly subjected to severe beating by prison guards. The prosecuting authorities had not launched an independent investigation into the allegations by year’s end.

ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES


In February, Gökhan Türkmen, one of seven
men accused of links with the Fethullah
Gülen movement who went missing in 2019,
recounted in court the torture and other illtreatment he had been subjected to during
the 271 days of his enforced disappearance.
The court requested a criminal investigation
to be launched into his allegations.
The whereabouts of Yusuf Bilge Tunç,
disappeared in August 2019, remained
unknown at the end of the year.


RIGHTS OF REFUGEES, ASYLUM SEEKERS AND MIGRANTS


Turkey continued to host the largest refugee
population in the world: around 4 million
people, including 3.6 million Syrians. The
2016 EU-Turkey deal, which provides
European financial assistance to support
refugees in Turkey in exchange for its cooperation on migration control and returns, continued to operate.
After announcing the opening of the EU
borders on 27 February, Turkey recklessly
encouraged and facilitated the movement of
asylum-seekers and migrants to the Greek
land border, where violent pushbacks led to
deaths and injuries (see Greece entry). At the
end of March, Turkish authorities removed
people from the border area.
According to an NGO report published in
October, Turkey deported more than 16,000
Syrians to Syria during the year. A group of
Syrians reported in May they were forcibly
returned to Syria and had been pressured
into signing documents stating that they
wanted to return.1 As of September, according to UN numbers, Turkey deported around 6,000 people to Afghanistan, although the situation in the country still did not allow safe and dignified returns.

1. Turkey: Halt illegal deportation of people to Syria and ensure their
safety (EUR 44/2429/2020)

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Turkish Women Protest withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: “This is about fundamental human rights”

Though the Erdogan government had been threatening to leave the Istanbul Convention for months, the dead of night announcement on Friday still came as a shock to millions of Turkish women. The Istanbul Convention, which was ratified by the Turkish Parliament in 2011 while Erdogan was Prime Minister, requires a signatory country to take steps to prevent and prosecute violence against women, as well as protect victims. Women across Turkey took to the streets on Saturday, decrying the withdrawal as a sign that the government does not care about the life, health, and safety of Turkish women.

“From the protests that you see today, it is clear that women don’t see this as a cultural battle, they see this is about fundamental human rights and they are united in their fight against gender based violence,” AIUSA Turkey Advocacy Specialist Deniz Yuksel said in an interview in Al-Jazeera English on Saturday.

In response to the argument made by the Turkish government that current laws are strong enough to protect women and girls from gender based violence, Yuksel said that “of course signing the Convention is not enough. The [Turkish] parliament has passed a series of domestic laws under the convention, but the Turkish government has largely failed to implement those. As you heard in the testimonies of women, Turkish police rarely listen to women when they come with complaints of violence from partners.”

It is clear that Turkey’s current laws and justice system are adequet to protect women as there as been a steady rise in incidents of violence against women over the past decade, according to Yuksel, and these incidents have become even more frequent since the onset of the pandemic.

Yuksel warned that “in just the first 78 days of this year, 77 women have been killed, and many more will be unless the government acts to protect women and girls.

The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is just the most recent in a series of strikes against human rights in Turkey. In the last week, the Turkish government has stripped the parliamentary immunity of a legitimately elected Kurdish MP from the HDP, expelled him from parliament, detained him for protesting his expulsion, and started the process to legally close the HDP.

This is all happening against background of the systematic replacement of elected mayors from the HDP in Kurdish majority cities and provinces, the banning LGBTI pride activities, and the arrest, prosecution, and ongoing detention of activists, philanthropists, journalists, and lawyers. Independent or autonomous Turkish state institutions like Constitutional Court, High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, Turkish Court of Accounts, Council of State, and even opposition parties are either systemically, structurally, or politically restricted to prevent any from speaking out against these ongoing human rights violations.

Millions of Turkish girls and women desperately need to be supported by international community right now. The current pattern of human rights violations in Turkey demonstrates that the country is heading toward irreversible damage to human rights and human dignity.

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The Ongoing Absurdity of the Case of Osman Kavala

Turkish government has held Osman Kavala in prison for more than three years without any credible accusation against him, indeed, even an indictment until a few months ago. He was found not guilty by the Turkish courts of his alleged crime of orchestrating the Gezi park protests during the summer 2013. After reviewing his case, European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that his continued detention was a violation of human rights. Around the world, newspaper editorial boards, human rights organizations, and grassroots activists have cried out for Kavala’s immediate release. Instead of releasing him, the Turkish courts instead prepared a second indictment. `

The same courts that found Osman Kavala not guilty of attempting to overthrow the government through the Gezi park protests now want to try him on espionage charges. After the Turkish courts ruled for his release, and the ECHR ruled that his rights were violated, Istanbul Chief Prosecutor prepared an indictment accusing him of working for foreign countries and organizations against the State of Turkey. The timing of the indictment was not a coincidence. Osman Kavala used his constitutional right and applied, technically appealed, to Turkish Constitution Court (Turkey’s supreme court), and the court decided to hear the Osman Kavala case in the first week of October. However, Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor presented the indictment to the Istanbul 36th Criminal Court on the same day as the court’s hearing. Therefore, the Constitutional Court had to cancel the plan to hear the case. Kavala’s trial date for these new charges, which have a 20 year sentence attached, is December 18.

As international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have continuously pointed out, there is not a single piece of evidence to support those allegations. There are only extremely dubious accusations in the indictment, like that Osman Kavala traveled to different places to attend secret meetings. Indictment does not mention where, with who, and when these meetings allegedly took place. The same inducement introduces other baseless and nonsensical claims. For example, it alleges that a documentary on the lives of schoolgirls in Eastern Anatolia that was found in Osman Kavala’s phone is evidence that he wanted to “establish a perception that Turkish Republic kills citizens with Kurdish origin.”

Turkish judicial system is facing probably one of the most important cases in their almost a hundred-year-long history. If it wants to maintain even a semblance of being just and non-political, it must find Osman Kavala not guilty and release him immediately.

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Amnesty International Asks: #WhereIsNaderaAlmonla

Many Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi families and individuals in Turkey hurriedly made the journey to the border region with Greece in Turkey on 27 February 2020, amid promises by the Turkish authorities that the country’s borders with the European Union (EU) would be opened. Many of these asylum seekers had lived in Turkey for years, but the Turkish government has no qualms about using its immigrant and asylum-seekers population against the EU as a political leverage.

‘EU-Turkey deal’ that has been signed between Turkey and EU countries on 18 March 2016 allowed for the return of all those arriving irregularly on the Greek islands – including asylum-seekers – back to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey promised to ‘prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration’

The Turkish government’s justification on its opening the border with the EU was its concurrent “Spring Shield” military operation in Syria’s Idlib province, launched after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a single attack in that province. The Syrian military (supported by Russia) had at that point advanced into the last stronghold controlled by Turkey-supported opposition armed groups. Turkey requested NATO assistance with the “Spring Shield” operation.

Within all these developments, without a doubt, the most affected group was the immigrants and asylum seekers in Turkey. When Amnesty International launched their briefing on the violence at the Greek-Turkish border (‘Caught in a political game https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/2077/2020/en/) the organization reported the case of Fatma (not her real name), a Syrian woman who is missing and presumed dead after she and her husband were separated from their six children while attempting to cross the Evros/Meriç river, south of Edirne, to enter Greece. To date, three months later, there are no news on what happened to Fatma.

Fatma has a name now: Nadera Almonla, and her lawyer has launched a digital campaign to call for justice for her and her family. The action started on Monday, June 18th, at 8:00 pm Turkey time/ 6:00 pm UK time/ 7:00 pm CET.

Since then, many support their efforts by joining the twitter action, amplifying the lawyer’s campaign chosen hashtags: #NaderaAlmonlaNerede #WhereIsNaderaAlmonla and targeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Here is what Amnesty’s report tells us about Nadera (Fatma)’s case:

“A less reported case is that of Fatma. On 29 February Fatma, from Syria, was attempting to cross the river Evros south of Edirne to enter Greece along with her husband and six children. Her husband Ahmed told Amnesty International that their six children crossed the river in a boat first while he and his wife and others waited on the Turkish side for the boat to return to take them across, but that as soon as the children reached the Greek side of the river six soldiers arrived in two army vehicles. He explained what happened next:

They fired in the air. My wife was afraid for our kids and wanted to go to them and she went into the river and I went with her. The water at first reached our waist. I am about 1.70 cm and my wife is shorter than me. The Greek soldiers shouted at us in a language I did not understand. I don’t think it was English. It must have been Greek. We kept walking in the river towards the Greek side and as we reached just over halfway, towards Greece, the water was at our shoulder and my wife’s neck. We raised our hands and kept walking and as we got about 2 or 3 metres from the river bank the Greek soldiers were right in front of us, on the riverbank, about 7 or 8 metres from us, pointing their rifles at us. They shot and we went into the water out of fear. I saw one with a handgun and one with a rifle. I reached the riverbank and my wife was behind me. The last sight I caught of her was when she was standing with her head above water about two meters behind me. The soldiers came towards me, I tried to go back to get my wife but they grabbed me and pushed me face down with my head away from the water so I could not see the river. I tried to get up but the soldier put his rifle to my head so I could not move. In all they shot at least three times’.”

When we look at the report, we see that Ahmed told Amnesty International that he attempted to ask the Greek soldiers about what happened to his wife but they did not answer. After he and his children were detained for four or five hours and their possessions and his and his sons’ clothes taken from them, they were driven back to the river and put in a wooden boat that brought them and others back to the Turkish side. Ahmed has returned to the scene to discover what happened to his wife, and has been supported by lawyers in Turkey and Greece, who have appealed to authorities in both countries, but no information is available on the whereabouts of Fatma or whether she was shot and killed, or injured or drowned in the river.

Nadera’s lawyer, who is assisting her husband and family in trying to obtain justice, has reported the case to the Greek police with no success. An application was also filed to the ECtHR about the case requesting measures to find Nadera and asking for an effective investigation on the matter, so far without results.

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Turkey’s “early release from prison” law leaves innocent and vulnerable prisoners at risk of COVID-19

Imprisoned journalists, writers, politicians, and human rights defenders are not in the ‘early release from prisons’ law passed by the Turkish parliament yesterday. Although there were more than 200 requested changes to the law by the opposition parties in the General Assembly, none of them was included in the final version.  

KONYA, TURKEY – SEPTEMBER 12 : A guardian unlocks the door to allow inmates of ‘Memorizers Dormitory’ for a visit at Konya Type E Closed prison on September 12, 2019. 13 inmates, who share the same dormitory called ‘Memorizers Dormitory’ at Konya Type E Closed prison, were influenced by their friends, who have completely memorized the holy Qur’an and became Memorizers (Hafiz), started to memorize the holy Qur’an. They aim to wear the cassock with a ceremony, held after one completely memorizes. (Photo by Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The new law which is expected to allow for the early release of up to 100,000 prisoners, but fails to cover those who deserve it most. Reacting to these developments, Amnesty International’s Turkey Campaigner, Milena Buyum, said: 

Whilst any steps to reduce the chronic overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons are welcome, it is deeply disappointing that the tens of thousands of prisoners in pretrial detention – a measure that must only be used when there are no alternatives to custody – will not be considered for release… The authorities must also seriously consider releasing all those who are imprisoned pending trial, as well as those who are at particular risk because of their age or underlying health conditions regardless of the charge they have been imprisoned or convicted under.

President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have been working on a general amnesty law for the last a few years. It is publicly known that this amnesty was one of MHP’ conditions for forming the People’s Alliance with AKP in 2018 for the elections. The MHP previously tried to bring the law to Parliament, but Erdogan postponed negotiation.

On 31 March, the long-awaited judicial reform package was finally brought forward in response to the spread of COVID-19 in Turkish prisons. It was considered by the Justice Commission on 2 and 3 April but no significant amendments were added to broaden its scope to include prisoners of conscious, journalists, or politicians. 

Yesterday at the end of six-days of negotiations, the Execution Package prepared by the AKP in line with MHP’s suggestions was accepted at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with 279 acceptance votes, against 51 rejection votes.

The plight of imprisoned Turkish human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians has garnered international attention. Before the law was passed, several international human rights bodies had appealed to Turkey to ensure the release of prisoners who were detained in violation of human right standards. 

In a statement, Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights declared that:

According to the relevant human rights standards as indicated by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its COVID-19 Statement of Principles, the resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty is imperative in situations of overcrowding and even more so in cases of emergency. … Clearly, in this context, it is also all the more imperative that those persons, including human rights defenders, activists and journalists, who are – in some member states – detained in violation of human rights standards be immediately and unconditionally released.

Twenty-seven human rights and freedom of expression NGOs in Turkey and tens of thousands in Turkey and elsewhere signed a petition urging the Minister of Justice to broaden the scope of the proposed measures. In the joint statement, NGOs express their concern “that journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived by the government.”

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Kavala’s Detention After Release Order: He must immediately set free!

The decision to detain Osman Kavala, a prominent philanthropist, on new charges merely hours after a court ordered his release must be immediately reversed and he must immediately set free, said Amnesty International.

On 18 February 2020, a court ordered Osman Kavala’s release, and only few hours later the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor issued a new detention order against Osman Kavala on new charges.

“This decision smacks of deliberate and calculated cruelty. To have been granted release after almost two-and-a-half years behind bars only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is a devastating blow for Osman Kavala, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey,” said Milena Buyum Amnesty International Turkey Campaigner. “This cynical and outrageous re-detention only deepens our resolve to continue to fight on Osman Kavala’s behalf. It is time for Turkey to end the relentless crackdown on dissenting voices. Osman Kavala must be immediately released from prison and the witch hunt against him ended.” she added.

Besides Amnesty International, the European Union, PEN, and many other human rights groups activists, politicians, international organizations , call detention of Osman Kavala ‘cynical and outrageous’.

Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union stated on press release that “the lack of credible grounds to re-arrest Osman Kavala and to continue his detention pending different charges, further damages the credibility of Turkey’s judiciary.” Spokesperson’s statement continues with “As a candidate country and long-standing member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is expected to apply the highest democratic standards and practices, including the right to a fair trial, the strict respect of the principle of presumption of innocence and a legal process. These are critical aspects not only for the citizens of Turkey, but also to guarantee an impartial and independent Turkish judiciary. Judicial proceedings cannot be used as a means of silencing critical voices.”

In addition to Spokesperson’s statement, another report that published on 19 February 2020 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, calls Turkish authorities to stop prosecute human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. The report stresses the importance of reinstating the judicial independence in Turkey. “The Commissioner considers that the misuse of criminal investigations, proceedings, detentions and sentences to silence human rights defenders and to discourage civil society engagement is the most acute symptom of the mounting pressure they are facing in Turkey.”

The judicial independence in Turkey has been damaged significantly and it is regular to observe the symptoms. A day after the acquittal of Osman Kavala, Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) started an investigation of three judges who acquitted Osman Kavala. Also on Feb. 19, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the court “attempted” to acquit Kavala “with a maneuver.”

30 City Bars in Turkey including Ankara and Diyarbakir Bars called the members of HSK to resign in a joint statement. Bars stated that investigating of those three judges is not only unconstitutional but also an open threat for all the members of the judicial system. The joint statement points out that the Article 138 of the Turkish Constitution that regulates the judicial independence secures the independency of the judges.

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ECHR’s decision on Osman Kavala: Osman Kavala should be released immediately

In December 10th, Human Rights Day, European Court of Human Rights declared that Osman Kavala’s application admissible as regards the complaints under Article 5 §§ 1 and 3 (lack of reasonable suspicion and of relevant and sufficient reasons), Article 5 § 4 (lack of a speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court) and Article 18 of the Convention. The court ordered that Turkey was to take all necessary measures to put an end to the Osman Kavala’s detention and to secure his immediate release.

Osman Kavala was arrested in October 18th 2017, and has been in prison for more than 2 years. His case is still in process. Allegedly, he tried to overthrow the Turkish Government and abolish the constitutional order in Turkey. ECHR’s decision proves three points that all the human right defenders has been pointing out since Osman Kavala’s arrest:

  1. The lack of reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed an offence (Article 5/1 of the convention)
  2. The lack of a speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court (Article 5/4 of the convention)
  3. Turkish state intentionally attempts to silence Osman Kavala who is a human right activists and philanthropist (Article 18 of the convention).

Turkey is a party of European Convention on Human Rights. And ECHR’s decisions are binding on Turkey. After the court’s decision, Turkish courts must immediately free Osman Kavala. Turkey’s insistence on keeping Osman Kavala in prison is not only a violation of human rights but also an illegal act by Turkish state.

The main cause used by Turkish authorities to arrest Osman Kavala is that he provided financial helps to Gezi events. However, Osman Kavala was arrested four years after Gezi Events. Turkish Government cannot explain why they waited for four years to arrest Osman Kavala, if there was already crime. Turkish courts still cannot provide any concrete evidence on Osman Kavala’s alleged crimes. That is why the ECHR declared that there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed an offence.

Osman Kavala is a renowned philanthropist, businessman and human rights activist.

Osman Kavala has appealed to his arrest and applied to Turkish Constitutional Court. However, the Constitutional Court made decision 1 year 4 months after his application. This is clearly a very late processing period. Therefore, ECHR holded that there was a lack of speedy judicial review by the Constitutional Court.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights believes that the Osman Kavala’s arrest, as well as his initial and continued detention, without an indictment for more than 400 days as of the time of writing of the present submission, should be seen against a backdrop of continuously increasing pressure on civil society and human rights defenders in Turkey in recent years.

The third party intervention by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights points out that regarding the practice of prosecutors, the Commissioner’s predecessor had pointed to the problem of indictments, expressing concern about the fact that they can become overly long, sometimes running into thousands of pages, especially in cases relating to terrorism and organized crime, owing to the fact that they are often limited to “a compilation of pieces of evidence, such as long, indiscriminate transcripts of many wire-tapped telephone conversations, some of which reportedly bear little relevance to the offense in question”.

Inclusion of the “limitation on use of restrictions on rights” article 18 (the restrictions permitted under this Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed) in the ECHR’s Kavala decision shows a very crucial point, that is, Turkish judiciary system is extremely political.

Osman Kavala’s case is also expected to be a topic in upcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey. Andrew Gardner, a Turkey researcher for  Amnesty  International, has called on German Chancellor Angele Merkel to raise the issue of jailed philanthropist and human activist Osman Kavala during her meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Jan. 24 in Istanbul.

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Amnesty International’s Secretary General Speaks Out Against the Ongoing Case Against Turkish Human Rights Defenders

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Amnesty Turkey’s Honorary Chair Taner Kilic was released from prison a little over a year ago, but the case against him and ten other Turkish human rights defenders has continued to move through the courts. Taner and the Istanbul 10 face another hearing today and Amnesty is calling for an end to this miscarriage of justice.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, did not mince words when calling for the acquittal of Kilic and the Istanbul 10.

After more than two years and without a shred of credible evidence presented to substantiate the absurd charges made against them, it is now time to end this judicial farce and acquit Taner and the Istanbul 10.

Over the course of eight hearings, the prosecuting authorities have failed to present any credible evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, yet the threat of conviction has hung over these 11 human rights defenders but also as a warning to anyone else standing up for human rights in Turkey.

For updates on the case, follow Amnesty Campaigner @MilenaBuyum, who will be in the courtroom during the hearing.

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Join the Tweetstorm for Imprisoned Turkish Civil Society Leader Osman Kavala

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During the first two weeks of this month, Osman Kavala will mark three significant milestones in his life. Yesterday, October 1, was his 700th day in prison since his arrest on charges that he instigated the 2013 Gezi Park protests in an effort to overthrow the Turkish government. Today, October 2, he marks his 701st day in jail and his 62nd birthday. Next week, October 8-9, he will appear in court for the third hearing in his case.

In solidarity with Kavala during this poignant and difficult stretch of time, supporters are using the hashtags #sevgiliOsmanKavala and #dearOsmanKavala to symbolically send messages to Kavala.

 

Kavala is one of the most important leaders of Turkish civil society, heading up the charitable foundation Anadolu Kultur, which supports arts and cultural projects that promote cultural diversity and exchange. Promoting human rights is a major tenant of Anadolu Kultur, and Kavala’s, work.

Kavala was one of the most prominent figures swept up in the crackdown on civil society in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt. Kavala and fifteen others are charged in the Gezi case. Amnesty’s Andrew Gardner has called the charges against Kavala “outlandish” and noted, despite its massive word count,

The 657-page indictment against Osman Kavala and the others does not contain a single shred of evidence that they were in any way involved in criminal activity, let alone conspiring to overthrow the government. During the first hearing in June, Osman Kavala and the other defendants made statements to the court that exposed in great detail the baseless allegations leveled against them.

Amnesty is calling for Kavala to be immediately released and all charges against him and his co-defendants to be dropped.

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Amnesty Issues Urgent Action for Disappeared Men

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Six men disappeared in February. Their families had no idea who had taken them, whether they were alive or dead. On July 28, four of the six suddenly reappeared in custody of the Turkish anti-terrorism authorities. Where they have been in the intervening months has not been determined. Turkish authorities have implied that the four only came into their custody on July 28. No lawyer has been allowed to meet with the four and the authorities have silenced them when their families asked what happened to them during the time they were missing.

The fact that the whereabouts of two men who went missing under similar circumstances is still unknown makes it all the more imperative that the Turkish authorities provide answers as to what happened to these four.

Amnesty has issued an urgent action demanding that the Turkish authorities “promptly investigate to determine the whereabouts of Gökhan Türkmen and Mustafa Yılmaz [the two missing men] and urgently inform their families.”

A Twitter campaign has also been launched with the tags #MustafaYilmazNerede and #GökhanTürkmenNerede (Where is Mustafa Yilmaz/ Where is Gokhan Turkmen?)

Enforced disappearances where widespread in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, but had become rare in the 2000s. Unfortunately, they seem to be making a comeback. In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented at least 4 cases.

 

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