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24 July 2017

EU must press Turkish authorities to drop the charges against the 10 human rights defenders and to free those detained

On occasion of the High Level Political Dialogue with Turkey which will be held in Brussels on 25 July, Front Line Defenders asks High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn to call for the dropping of charges against human rights defenders Nalan Erkem, Seyhmuz Ozbekli, Ozlem Dalkiran, Idil Eser, Veli Acu, Gunal Kursun, Ilknur Ustun, Nejat Tastan, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner, and to urge the authorities to release those still held in-pretrial detention.

On 18 July 2017, Nalan Erkem, Seyhmuz Ozbekli, Ozlem Dalkiran, Idil Eser, Veli Acu, Gunal Kursun, Ilknur Ustun, Nejat Tastan, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner were charged with "aiding an armed terrorist organisation". Six of the human rights defenders, including Ozlem Dalkiran, Idil Eser, Veli Acu, Gunal Kursun, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner are being kept in pre-trial detention while Nalan Erkem, Seyhmuz Ozbekli, Ilknur Ustun, Nejat Tastan have been released but are under a travel ban and other judicial restrictions. Ozlem Dalkiran and Idil Eser are being held in Bakirkoy prison, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner in Maltepe prison and Veli Acu and Gunal Kursun in Metris prison of Istanbul.

Nalan Erkem, Seyhmuz Ozbekli and Ozlem Dalkiran all work for the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly, an organisation promoting peace, democracy and civil society throughout Europe. Idel Eser is the director of Amnesty International Turkey. Veli Acu and Günal Kursun work for the Human Rights Agenda Association, monitoring human rights violations throughout the country. Ilknur Ustun is a member of the Women’s Coalition, which focuses on gender equality and enhanced female participation in public life. Nejat Tastan is coordinator at the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, an NGO promoting equality and carrying out independent election observation. Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner are consultants who were collaborating with the Dutch Development Agency, HIVOS, to support human rights defenders and development organisations.

On the morning of 5 July 2017, the ten human rights defenders were detained by police during a workshop on holistic security, organised by the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly for Turkish human rights defenders.

After being held incommunicado for almost 30 hours, they were allowed to contact families and see their legal counsellor.

On 11 July 2017, the detention of the ten abovementioned human rights defenders was extended by seven more days by a decision of the prosecutor. The detention order referred to suspected membership of an armed terrorist organisation.  During 10 and 11 July 2017, police carried out searches at the houses of the detained defenders, and reportedly seized flash and hard drives as well as other electronic equipment.

Despite the undisclosed nature of the investigation, there has been a smear campaign conducted against the defenders in certain segments of Turkish media as well as amongst social media networks, equating the human rights defenders with “spies”.

On 17 July 2017, all of the human rights defenders were interviewed by public prosecutors at the Judicial Palace in Istanbul, following 12 days of detention without charges. Around 10:00pm the same day, it was revealed that the public prosecutor would request detention for all ten of the human rights defenders. In the early morning of 18 July 2017 the judge ordered the pre-trial detention for six of the human rights defenders, as "there was a strong suspicion that the detainees committed the crime" and because of "possibility of escape". Although the court decision does not refer to any specific articles of the Criminal Code, it mentions the charges of “aiding an armed terrorist organisation”, which could relate to Article 220.7, which states that (official translation) "Any person who knowingly and willingly helps an organized criminal group although not takes place within the hierarchic structure of the group, is punished as if he is a member of the organized group" and to Article 220.3 (official translation)"in case the organized criminal group is equipped with arms, the punishment to be imposed according to the above subsections is increased from one fourth to one half".

Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by, and condemns the charges and pre-trial detention of the aforementioned human rights defenders, as it believes that these actions are in connection with their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights. We are glad the Commission Spokesperson called for their release today 20 July, but call for this message to be relayed directly to the Turkish authorities at the highest level during High Level Political Dialogue with Turkey in Brussels next week.