An İstanbul court ordered on Wednesday the release of Taner Kılıç, the president of Turkey’s branch of international human rights group Amnesty International.
“It is an enormous relief that Taner will soon return to his wife and daughters and sleep in his own bed for the first time in almost eight months,” Amnesty International’s Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik said in a statement following the court’s decision. “But we cannot forget that many other innocent people remain behind bars in Turkey without a shred of evidence,” she added.
“These unfounded prosecutions are an attempt to silence critical voices within Turkey but have only served to highlight the importance of human rights and those who dedicate their lives to defending them,” said van Gulik.
“Today we take a brief moment to celebrate, but tomorrow we will continue our struggle to have all charges dropped against Taner, the İstanbul 10, and all the other innocent victims wrongfully caught up in this vicious crackdown,” van Gulik said.
The “İstanbul 10” refers to 10 human rights activists detained by Turkish authorities in July, 2017 while they were attending a human rights workshop on Büyükada, an island in Marmara Sea near İstanbul. These activists include Amnesty International Turkey Director İdil Eser and two German citizens.
Following the court’s order on Wednesday, the rights group thanked their followers on the organization’s Twitter page, saying a million people have called for Kılıç’s release prior to the conditional release decision on Wednesday. Van Gulik said that “We thank the more than a million people who called for Taner’s release. They have shown that when we take injustice personally, and we act and speak with one voice, we will be heard.”
A court in İstanbul on Oct. 25, 2017 ordered the release of eight human rights activists from prison pending the outcome of their trial on “terror” charges, but ruled to keep Kılıç’s imprisoned, drawing criticism from human rights supporters around the world.
While Taner has now been released, the trial against him, İdil Eser and the other nine human rights defenders on trumped-up terrorism related charges continues. It is one of many baseless prosecutions against members of civil society under the crackdown in Turkey.
A delegation of Amnesty International directors from around the world attended the trial. Follow Kate Allen (UK – @KateAllenAI), Sylvie Brigot-Vilain (France – @sylviebrigot ), Jon Peder Egernaes (Norway – @johnpeder) and Europe Director Gauri van Gulik (@GaurivanGulik). Also follow Amnesty’s Senior Advisor and Researcher on Turkey Andrew Gardner @andrewegardner.
Amnesty International’s Turkey Chair, Taner Kılıç, was detained on June 6, 2017 and sent to jail three days later, where he has been ever since. Ten other activists “the İstanbul 10”, including İdil Eser, the Director of Amnesty International Turkey, were detained a month later. Eight of them were held for almost four months before being released on bail at their first hearing in October.
The İstanbul 10 were accused of “membership of a terrorist organization,” a baseless allegation for which the prosecution has yet to provide any concrete evidence that would stand up to scrutiny.
Taner Kılıç is alleged to have downloaded and used the ByLock messaging application, which the prosecution has claimed was used by the Gülen movement to communicate with each other. However, two independent forensic analyses of Taner’s phone commissioned by Amnesty International found that there is no trace of ByLock ever having been on it. So far, the prosecution have not provided any evidence to prove their claim and demonstrate any criminal wrongdoing.
Last month, Turkish authorities admitted that thousands of people have been wrongly accused of downloading ByLock. They published lists containing the numbers of 11,480 mobile phone users, leading to mass releases. Taner Kılıç is not yet among those listed for release.
More than a million people from 194 countries and territories have signed Amnesty International appeals demanding the release of Taner Kılıç and the other human rights defenders in Turkey since their arrest last summer. Scores of well-known figures have called for the release of Taner and the dropping of charges against him and the İstanbul 10.