Amnesty says justice prevails as Turkey’s top court overturns convictions of 4 rights defenders

File photo: Ozan Kose/AFP

“The decision by Türkiye’s highest appeals court to overturn baseless convictions of Amnesty International Türkiye’s Honorary Chair and three other human rights defenders is a huge relief, yet also highlights once more the politically motivated nature of the prosecutions,” Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

According to a report by Turkish Minute, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the convictions of Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun – four of 11 human rights defenders who were convicted in July 2020 on terrorism charges.

Eser, the former Amnesty Turkey director, was among three people sentenced to 25 months for “helping a terrorist organization.”

Former Amnesty International Turkey chair Kılıç was sentenced to six years, three months for “membership in a terrorist organization.”

The top court’s decision comes more than five years after their initial arrests in the summer of 2017. Kılıç’s case was quashed on the grounds of ‘incomplete investigation’ and referred back to the court of first instance.

“Today’s ruling brings to an end a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. While we are hugely relieved that the convictions have finally been quashed, the fact that the court has ruled that Taner’s case requires further investigation is disappointing,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“For more than five years, we have watched the wheels of injustice grind as the baseless claims levelled against these four brave human rights defenders have been accepted as fact by successive courts. Today’s ruling reveals the true purpose of such politically motivated prosecutions: using the courts as a weapon to silence critical voices.”

Kılıç, a refugee rights lawyer, was arrested in June 2017 and detained in prison for more than 14 months.

In May the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the authorities in Turkey did not have “any reasonable suspicion that Taner Kılıç had committed an offence.” It also found that his pretrial detention on terrorism-related charges was “directly linked to his activity as a human rights defender.” This binding decision became final in October.

“Whilst we celebrate this decision today, we do not forget that across Türkiye many human rights defenders are languishing in jail, living in fear of arrest or facing similar unfounded prosecutions,” said Callamard.

“We will take strength from today’s victory. We will continue to stand with Taner until the end and to fight against the relentless curtailing of human rights in Türkiye, and on behalf of those who refuse to be silenced by the government’s threats.”

Kılıç, now Amnesty’s honorary chair, was accused of links to a movement led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, which is outlawed in Turkey.

Ankara accuses Gülen of ordering the 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, although he denies the allegation.

It was claimed Kılıç used the encrypted ByLock messaging application, which authorities believe was used among the Gülen followers.

But a police report showed Kılıç did not have the application on his phone.

Following the attempted putsch, tens of thousands of people, including journalists, were arrested, accused of links to Gülen, while more than 100,000 civil servants were sacked or suspended on similar allegations.

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