CoE’s Jagland expresses concern over arrest of rights activists in Turkey

Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe

Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe (CoE), has expressed his concerns to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım over the arrest of six human rights defenders in Turkey on July 18, according to a press release from his office on Thursday.

Six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s (AI) Turkey Director İdil Eser and German human rights consultant Peter Steudtner, who were detained on July 5 during a workshop at a hotel on İstanbul’s Büyükada, were put in pre-trial detention by an İstanbul court on Tuesday.

The activists are accused of giving support to a terrorist organization.

During a phone conversation with Yıldırım on Wednesday evening, Jagland said: “I told the Prime Minister that it is a well-established principle of the Council of Europe, confirmed by the case-law of the Strasbourg Court, that human rights defenders should be able to fulfill their activities freely without being subject to arbitrary interferences by the authorities. Such grave accusations as terrorism-related offences should be backed by serious and concrete evidence so as not to create an atmosphere of arbitrariness leading to fear, self-censorship and a chilling effect within Turkish civil society.”

He said the Turkish judiciary should apply the principles set in the case-law of the Strasbourg Court as regards pre-trial detention.

Jagland also raised the worsening medical condition of the two Turkish educators on hunger strike, Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, during the call with the Turkish prime minister.

Gülmen and Özakça have been on a hunger strike for 134 days to protest their dismissals under state of emergency decree-laws. They were on the 76th day of a hunger strike when they were arrested on terror charges on May 23 in Ankara.

“Both are kept in pre-trial detention and are now in considerable ill health due to their ongoing hunger strike. I had previously called for their release and continue to do so, “Jagland said.

He also made a call to Gülmen and Özakça to stop their hunger strike. “I want them to be assured that their voices have been heard. They now need to be in good health to effectively defend their rights.”

Jagland said he also discussed with Yıldırım about the State of Emergency Inquiry Commission, which has been recently set up to accept complaints regarding dismissals under state of emergency decree-laws.

“The Commission started receiving applications last Monday and will hopefully offer redress to all those who are seeking justice. Taking into account the particularly worrying health situation of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, I mentioned to the Prime Minister the importance for the Commission to deal with their cases as a matter of priority,” Jagland said.

Meanwhile, the Peace Bloc in Turkey has called the Turkish government to release human rights defenders in a written statement they have released on Thursday, according to a report by Bianet.

The Peace Bloc stated that “As the Peace Bloc, we deem this operation as a scandalous practice towards damaging social peace and we condemn it. This must be fixed as soon as possible and the rights defenders must be released. We call the institutions, especially bar associations and legists, favoring democracy and justice for duty and we urge them to take action against these judicial murders.”

A state of emergency was declared in Turkey in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The Turkish Parliament this week extended for three more months the state of emergency, known as OHAL, which has been in force since July 20 of last year after the putsch and would normally expire on July 19. (SCF with July 20, 2017

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