The “absurd” arrest and trial of Amnesty International’s honorary Turkey chair Taner Kılıç is “emblematic of the new wave of repression currently gripping Turkey,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, wrote for Time magazine on Wednesday.
Kılıç, detained on Jun. 6, 2017 over alleged links to the Gülen movement, appeared in court on Thursday. The charges against Kılıç were based on the supposed presence of ByLock mobile phone messaging application on his phone. However, a recent police report confirmed the findings of four independent forensic reports which showed no signs of the application on any of his devices.
Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
“A 15-page report finally provided by the police earlier this month failed to find any evidence Taner ever had ByLock on his phone. It reveals that they carried out forensic examinations and that ByLock did not appear on the list of items found on the phone, including deleted applications. This corroborates the findings of four independent forensic reports previously submitted to the court that also showed he did not have the app,” wrote Shetty.
“It has been 13 long months since the Turkish authorities first detained Taner on baseless charges of belonging to what they called a ‘terrorist’ group. His prolonged imprisonment on remand has sparked global condemnation and highlighted just how ruthless the Turkish authorities have become in targeting real or perceived critics.”
“The case against my colleague has always been absurd, but we won’t feel any comfort until Taner is actually free, given the present state of Turkey’s justice system, which seems to grow more arbitrary and capricious by the day,” said Shetty.
The crackdown under a state of emergency in place since shortly after the coup has seen 100,000 public service workers dismissed and 1,300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and 180 media organizations shut down in a “sustained assault on civil society,” Shetty noted.
The closure of NGOs has had a knock-on effect, removing vital care from some of society’s most vulnerable people, Shetty said, adding, “With harsh restrictions strangling Turkey’s independent journalism, and driving people away from political activism, the country has a desperate need for people like Taner.”
Kılıç has been released from prison once before since his arrest, spending the night in a detention facility after a court ordered his release. The prosecution’s appeal was accepted, however, and he was returned to his cell the next day.
Shetty expressed his hopes that this time the courts will finally release Kılıç and that he will no longer be forced to visit more colleagues in Turkish prisons. “If things don’t turn out this way, we at Amnesty International will double down on our efforts to see our colleague freed,” he said. “If we can show the courage and commitment that Taner himself would bring to a difficult case, then we’ll be on the right path.”
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.