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11 October 2017

11 human rights defenders face terror-related charges in Turkey

Irish human rights organisation Front Line Defenders has strongly condemned charges levelled against 11 peaceful human rights defenders detained in Turkey.

On 8 October 2017, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office charged ten human rights defenders with support “of an armed terrorist organisation” and accused one of membership in an “armed terrorist organisation.” If found guilty of these charges, the human rights defenders face between 7.5 and 15 years in prison.

"The charges levelled against these eleven renowned human rights defenders highlight the witch hunt being carried out against human rights defenders in the country. Our colleagues are facing up to 15 years in prison for their unrelenting commitment to strengthening Turkish civil society."

- Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson

A case against Amnesty International’s Turkey section Chair, Taner Kılıç, was merged in this indictment with the case of ten other human rights defenders, known as the Istanbul 10, who were arrested during a workshop on İstanbul's Büyükada Island.

The 17-page indictment accuses the human rights defenders of planning events designed to fuel unrest across Turkey in an attempt to replicate the 2013 Gezi Park protests. In reality, the Istanbul 10 were participating in a regular holistic security workshop, dozens of which take place around the world each month. Such workshops focus on sharing best practice for self-care, stress management, information security and personal security and are designed to improve the wellbeing of people working in fraught or high-pressure environments.

According to information publicised in the Turkish media, the indictment offers no evidence of the defenders being engaged in violence. The Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office is reportedly basing the charges on publications and information contained in the digital equipment of the defenders. These include hard copies of Urgent Actions published by Amnesty International, e-books, articles, meeting notes and a map of linguistic groups in the Middle East and Asia.

“The 'evidence' put forth in this case not only demonstrates the absurdity of the charges, but in fact vindicates these defenders, attesting to their long careers of peaceful work in defence of human rights. They must be immediately freed to continue their work.”

- Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson

On 5 July 2017, ten human rights defenders, Veli Acu and Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association, İdil Eser, Director of Amnesty International Turkey, Özlem Dalkıran and Nalan Erkem from Citizens' Assembly, İlknur Üstün from Women's Coalition, Şeyhmus Özbekli from Rights Initiative, Nejat Taştan from Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, and Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner who are the consultants collaborating with the Dutch Development Agency, HIVOS, were arrested during a training for human rights defenders on Büyükada Island. On 18 July 2017, all ten were charged with "aiding an armed terrorist organisation". On 25 July 2017, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli were released on probation but face the same charges.

Amnesty International’s Turkey section Chair Taner Kılıç, was detained a month previously on 6 June 2017 in a separate operation by an İzmir court over alleged links to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government claims was behind the 2016 attempted coup. On 9 June 2016, he was charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by, and condemns, the charges against these eleven human rights defenders who have never advocated for violence nor been involved in any violent events. We believe the charges are solely linked to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights in Turkey.  Front Line Defenders calls on Turkish authorities to drop the charges and to release the above-mentioned human rights defenders immediately.

To speak with Front Line Defenders, please contact:

Erin Kilbride