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Turkey: Human rights defenders risk 15 years of imprisonment

More than two years after they were first detained, Turkey’s State Prosecutor has made a request for the conviction of Amnesty Turkey’s honorary chair, Taner Kılıç, former director İdil Eser and four other human rights defenders on terrorism-related charges. If convicted, they risk up to 15 years imprisonment. The next, and presumably final trial hearing, is set to take place on 19 February 2020.

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement:

“Today’s vindictive request by the State Prosecutor for jail terms of up to 15 years ignores the evidence and defies all logic. The terrorist allegations made against Taner, İdil and four others have been repeatedly disproven over the course of nine previous hearings and it is clear today, as it has been from the start, that the Istanbul 10 and Taner are on trial for nothing more than their human rights work. They must be acquitted.”

The State Prosecutor requested the conviction of Taner Kılıç on the allegation of “membership of a terrorist organization” and İdil Eser, Günal Kurşun, Özlem Dalkıran, Nejat Taştan and Veli Acu on “assisting a terrorist organization without being a member”. The State Prosecutor requested that Ali Gharavi, İlknur Üstün, Nalan Erkem, Peter Steudtner and Şeyhmus Özbekli be acquitted.

Three of the human rights defenders on trial who are lawyers (Taner Kılıç, Nalan Erkem and Şeyhmus Özbekli) could also lose their licences to practice law after a conviction for a terrorism-related offence.

Taner Kılıç is a lawyer, human rights defender, the former chair of Amnesty International Turkey and the honorary president of Amnesty International Turkey. He is also one of the co-founders of Amnesty International Turkey. He was arrested on 6 June 2017 and sent to jail three days later.

The ten other activists, known as the Istanbul 10, were arrested a month later, on 5 July 2017. They were all from different human rights organisation and had gathered in the island Büyükada outside Istanbul for a workshop about protection of digital information. One of them, Peter Steudtner, is a German citizen, Ali Gharavi is Swedish-Iranian and eight of them are Turkish citizens.

“The Istanbul 10 and Taner must be acquitted, and all those jailed merely for defending human rights must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, in a press release.

Steudtner and Gharavi were holding the workshop for the Turkish activists but, on the third day, approximately 20 men wearing guns entered and arrested them all. They were held for almost four months – 113 days – in detention before being released on bail at their first hearing in October 2017. Taner Kılıç who had already been arrested a month earlier was included in the prosecution with the ten others.

Since the arrests, a number of initiatives have been launched to pressure the Turkish government to release the activists.

On 12 October 2017, a number of celebrities such as Zoë Kravitz, Nazanin Boniadi, Don Cheadle, Marisa Tomei, Adam McKay, Paul Haggis, Joshua Malina, Fisher Stevens, Claire Danes, Ben Stiller, Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Farrell, Eva Orner, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Roth, Kathy Najimy, Mark Ruffalo, Zach Galifianakis, Bruce Cohen, Shira Piven, Mike White, Tim Kring, and James McAvoy co-signed a letter calling on the Turkish government to release the Istanbul 10.

The letter states: “[We] are appalled by the recent imprisonment of two Amnesty International leaders in Turkey[…] The frequent attack on human rights defenders in Turkey is unjust and simply not acceptable[…] Defending human rights is not a crime. We will continue to fight for the immediate and unconditional release of our colleagues in Turkey, as well as all other human rights defenders unfairly jailed for their activism.”

In December 2017, 40 members of the US Congress signed a joint letter urging US President Donald Trump to call on Turkey to release Taner Kılıç.

In February 2018, IOHR spoke to Amnesty International’s media manager, Stefan Simanowitz about the crisis of press freedom.

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