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Police operation against civil society and academics

Status: 
Indicted
About the situation

On 20 February 2019, the indictment of 16 human rights defenders, including Yiğit Aksakoğlu, was issued by the Prosecutor’s Office. They are charged with, among other crimes, “attempting to overthrow the government” for their alleged involvement in the organisation of the Gezi Park Protests, a mass anti-government protest that took place in 2013.

On 17 November 2018, Yiğit Aksakoğlu was arrested on the allegation of “attempting to overthrow the government or to avoid, partially or entirely, its performance”. The other 12 human rights defenders, who were taken into custody with him in simultaneous police operations on 16 November 2018, were released on judicial control.

About Yiğit Aksakoğlu

Yigit AksakogluYiğit Aksakoğlu is a human rights defender who serves as the Turkey Country Director for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, working on early childhood development. He was coordinating the Project Istanbul95, in collaboration with four municipal authorities in Istanbul, which consists of monitoring the health and social development of 480 new born babies and their families. He is also a former staff member of İstanbul Bilgi University’s NGO Research and Training Unit and Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation.

25 February 2019
Sixteen human rights defenders, including Yiğit Aksakoğlu, indicted

On 20 February 2019, the indictment of 16 human rights defenders, including Yiğit Aksakoğlu, was issued by the Prosecutor’s Office. They are charged with, among other crimes, “attempting to overthrow the government” for their alleged involvement in the organisation of the Gezi Park Protests, a mass anti-government protest that took place in 2013. Yiğit Aksakoğlu has been in detention since 17 November 2018.

Yiğit Aksakoğlu serves as the Turkey Country Director for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, working on early childhood development. He was coordinating the project Istanbul95, in collaboration with four municipal authorities in Istanbul, which consists of monitoring the health and social development of 480 newborn babies and their families. He is also a former staff member of İstanbul Bilgi University’s NGO Research and Training Unit and Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation. The other 15 human rights defenders include lawyers, urban planners, actors and actresses, writers, journalists as well as employees and board members of civil society organisation, Anadolu Kültür. All 16 human rights defenders have been active members of civil society pushing for democracy and rule of law in Turkey over the past number of years.

On 20 February 2019, the Office of the Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor organised a press conference and released details of the indictment of 16 human rights defenders, including Yiğit Aksakoğlu. The indictment is pending the approval of Istanbul’s 30th High Criminal Court. In the 657-page indictment, the 16 human rights defenders were accused of being the masterminds behind the 2013 Gezi Park Protests, “provoking and preparing” the protests since 2011 and “financing and coordinating” the protests. The human rights defenders are charged with several crimes including “attempting to overthrow the government”, “damaging property,” “unlawful possession and transference of hazardous substances,” “damaging  sanctuaries and cemeteries,” “looting” and “assault.” They all face life sentences without parole. Yiğit Aksakoğlu has been detained since November 2018 and is being held in solitary confinement.

In a letter he sent to the online newspaper Bianet on 18 February 2019, Yiğit Aksakoğlu revealed details of his questioning in November 2018. He was presented with a 100-page list of questions including transcripts from 150 different records of his personal and professional phone conversations. The phone conversations dated back to the period between June 2013 and February 2014, and were alleged to be related to the Gezi Park Protests. According to the human rights defender, all conversations were related to his legitimate and legal civil society activities. In the letter he further stated that he was persistently questioned about whether he was being instructed by anyone.

In the past two years, Turkish authorities have resumed the criminal investigation of the alleged organisers of the 2013 Gezi Park Protests. Osman Kavala, a prominent philanthropist and human rights defender, has been accused of being the “mastermind” behind the protests. He has been in detention since November 2017. Many prominent civil society actors in Turkey have been questioned about their alleged involvement in the protests and their connection with Osman Kavala and his civil society organisations, Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı.  

Yiğit Aksakoğlu was arrested following  simultaneous police raids against prominent academics and civil society actors at various addresses in İstanbul, Adana, Antalya and Muğla on 16 November 2018.  On 17 November, he was arrested on the accusation of “attempting to overthrow the government”. The court based its decision on allegations that he had participated in several meetings, as moderator and facilitator, in order to organise a new round of protests following the Gezi Park Protests. The court further stated that it was not able to confirm the agenda of the meetings, but it had concluded that the meetings related to civil disobedience and peaceful protests on the basis of his phone records. Yiğit Aksakoğlu’s phone conversations had been monitored since 2013 and he had also been under physical surveillance by the authorities.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the criminalisation of human rights defenders over their alleged involvement in peaceful protests, the ongoing detention of Yiğit Aksakoğlu and judicial harassment of the 16 human rights defenders, as it believes that they are solely linked to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights. It urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately drop all the charges against the 16 human rights defenders, and guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

20 November 2018
Yiğit Aksakoğlu arrested

On 17 November 2018, Yiğit Aksakoğlu was arrested on the allegation of “attempting to overthrow the government or to avoid, partially or entirely, its performance”. The other 12 human rights defenders, who were taken into custody with him in simultaneous police operations on 16 November 2018, were released on judicial control.

Yiğit Aksakoğlu is a human rights defender who serves as the Turkey Country Director for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, working on early childhood development. He was coordinating the Project Istanbul95, in collaboration with four municipal authorities in Istanbul, which consists of monitoring the health and social development of 480 new born babies and their families. He is also a former staff member of İstanbul Bilgi University’s NGO Research and Training Unit and Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation.

In the early morning of 16 November 2018, police carried out simultaneous raids at various addresses in İstanbul, Adana, Antalya and Muğla. 13 human rights defenders, including academics and prominent civil society actors, were taken into custody while the arrest warrant was issued against 20 people. The human rights defenders were held at Vatan Police Department and questioned by the prosecutor about their involvement in the mass Gezi Park Protests in 2013, as well as their relation to Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı, civil society organisations affiliated with Osman Kavala. Following their questioning, on 16 and 17 November 2018, all human rights defenders, except for Yiğit Aksakoğlu, were released from police custody on judicial control. Although it was not specified in the court decision, their lawyers believe that the judicial control includes a travel ban, which is a widespread court practice in Turkey.

Yiğit Aksakoğlu was referred to the court on 17 November 2018 and arrested on the accusation of “attempting to overthrow the government or to avoid, partially or entirely, its performance”. The court motivated its decision on the allegations that he had participated in several meetings, as moderator and facilitator in order to organise new round of protests following Gezi Park Protests. The court further stated that they were not able to confirm the agenda of the meetings, but have concluded that the meetings were about civil disobedience and peaceful protesting, on the basis of his phone conversation records. Yiğit Aksakoğlu’s phone conversations have been monitored since 2013 and he has been under physical surveillance by the authorities.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the arrest of Yiğit Aksakoğlu and the criminal investigation against 13 human rights defenders as it believes that they are solely linked to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.

18 November 2018
Police operation against civil society and academics

On 16 November 2018, around 6 AM, 13 human rights defenders including academics and prominent civil society actors were taken into custody in simultaneous police operations in İstanbul, Adana, Antalya and Muğla. According to the police department, 13 human rights defenders were taken into custody “for their activities in a hierarchical structure led by Osman Kavala”, a prominent philanthropist who has been in pre-trial detention over a year. The detained human rights defenders include civil society actors affiliated with Anadolu Kültür, a civil society organisations led by Osman Kavala. The arrest warrant was initially issued against 20 people while 13 has been taken into custody so far.

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Detained human rights defenders are Prof. Dr. Betül Tanbay, faculty member of the Department of Mathematics at Boğaziçi University, member of Academics for Peace and Deputy Chair of the European Mathematical Society; Prof. Dr. Turgut Tarhanlı, Dean of the Faculty of Law of İstanbul Bilgi University and Professor of Human Rights Law; Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, Deputy Chair of Anadolu Kültür Executive Board; Ali Hakan Altınay, Anadolu Kültür Executive Board member; Asena Günal, General Coordinator of Anadolu Kültür İstanbul Office; Meltem Aslan, former Director General of Anadolu Kültür and Co-Director of Truth Justice Memory Center; Çiğdem Mater, film producer and consultant at Anadolu Kültür; Yiğit Aksakoğlu, former staff member of İstanbul Bilgi University’s NGO Research and Training Unit; Hande Özhabeş, former staff member of Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, Bora Sarı, Ayşegül Güzel, Filiz Telek and Yusuf Cıvır.

In the early morning of 16 November 2018, police carried out simultaneous raids at various addresses in İstanbul, Adana, Antalya and Muğla. So far, 13 human rights defenders, including academics and prominent civil society actors, have been taken into custody while the arrest warrant was issued against 20 people. The human rights defenders have been held at Vatan Police Department to be questioned by the prosecutor. Çiğdem Mater is the only one who has been held in Kaş Police Department and will be transferred to İstanbul later on 16 November. Following their questioning, they may be released or referred to the court after the weekend.

According to the information note issued by the police department, the human rights defenders were detained as part of an investigation into prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala and the civil society organisations affiliated with him, namely Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı. He was accused of “attempting to overthrow the government by force by supporting the Gezi Park Protests in 2013 to spread chaos and disorder at the national level”. In the information note, it was alleged that the human rights defenders, in coordination with Osman Kavala, had organised meetings to promote and generalise the Gezi Park Protests, brought professional protestors, trainers and facilitators from abroad to focus on issues like civil disobedience and peaceful protesting in order to keep the Gezi Park Protests ongoing, participated in the creation of new media sources in order to influence the public opinion about the existing and future protests, and met with Western organisations and individuals to ban the sale of tear gas to Turkey.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern at the detention of 13 human rights defenders and the ongoing criminal investigation against them as it believes that they are solely linked to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.