Press release July 9, 2020
Turkey: Büyükada Trial Verdict Lays Bare Assault on Human Rights
Activists were convicted without credible evidence of any crime.
Following the July 3 conviction of four human rights defenders, including the honorary chair and former director of Turkey’s Amnesty International branch, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The conviction of Taner Kılıç, Günal Kurşun, İdil Eser, and Özlem Dalkıran in this politically motivated case lays bare the Turkish authorities’ ongoing assault on human rights and the justice system’s abdication of its responsibility to protect them,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “We call on the Turkish courts to reaffirm the rule of law and to fulfill their obligation to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.”
On July 5, 2017, Turkish police raided a digital security workshop on Büyükada Island, one of the Princes’ Islands off the coast of Istanbul, that was organized by local human rights organizations in cooperation with Amnesty International’s Turkey branch. Ten activists were arrested that day, while Taner Kılıç, who was already facing other charges, was summarily added as a codefendant in the case. The 11 defendants were:
- Taner Kılıç and İdil Eser of Amnesty International Turkey,
- Günal Kurşun and Veli Acu of the Human Rights Agenda Association,
- Özlem Dalkıran and Nalan Erkem of the NGO Citizens’ Assembly,
- Ali Gharavi, an Iranian-Swedish playwright and technology specialist,
- Peter Steudtner, a German human rights activist and documentary filmmaker,
- Nejat Taştan of the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights,
- Şeyhmus Özbekli of Rights Initiative, and
- İlknur Üstün of the Women’s Coalition.
Eight of them, including Steudtner and Gharavi, both foreign nationals, spent 113 days in jail before being released on bail.
Nearly three years later, on July 3, 2020, the 35th High Criminal Court in Istanbul imposed prison sentences on four of the Büyükada defendants—Kılıç, Kurşun, Eser, and Dalkıran—for alleged “membership in a terrorist organization” and purportedly “aiding a terrorist organization.” The other seven—Acu, Erkem, Gharavi, Steudtner, Üstün, Özbekli, and Taştan—were acquitted.
Kılıç received a sentence of six years and three months, while Kurşun, Eser, and Dalkıran received sentences of two years and one month. The main evidence against Kılıç was his use of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app that Turkish authorities claim was used almost exclusively by supporters of Fetullah Gülen, the US-based Islamic preacher whose movement the Turkish state blames for the 2016 coup attempt and has deemed a terrorist organization.
While two of the three judges hearing the case endorsed the verdicts, one judge dissented. In his minority opinion, the judge wrote that Kılıç, Kurşun, Eser, and Dalkıran should also have been acquitted, considering that the alleged crime was not proven. The convictions are not yet final, and the ruling can be appealed within the Turkish court system. The defendants’ lawyers have also filed cases with the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), alleging unjust detention.
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