Crackdown on Human Rights Defenders: 2022 in Review

The situation of human rights defenders in Turkey has significantly deteriorated since a coup attempt in July 2016, with the HRDs subjected to judicial harassment over the last seven years.

Since 2016 international organizations and rights groups have repeatedly asked Turkey to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders are fully respected.

In 2022 human rights defenders continued to face baseless investigations, prosecutions and convictions. They were accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization,” “disseminating terrorist propaganda” and “insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” Turkish police have raided the offices of human rights organizations and detained rights advocates.

Prominent businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala remained behind bars during the year despite a 2019 ECtHR ruling that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The non-implementation of the ECtHR’s ruling prompted the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Committee of Ministers to launch an infringement procedure against Turkey in February.

In September four UN special rapporteurs sent a joint letter to the Turkish government and expressed their concern regarding the apparent denial of justice for Kavala. The UN officials urged Turkey to respect the decision and legitimacy of the ECtHR and requested information on the factual and legal basis of the charges against and conviction of Kavala.

In October Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, head of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and a prominent human rights defender, was detained due to her remarks calling for an investigation into claims of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish military against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

In November the Supreme Court of Appeals 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.

Here is some of the most important news from 2022 in the crackdown on human rights defenders:

Turkey misused counterterrorism legislation to target human rights defenders

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said in a statement in December that she was deeply concerned by the apparent misuse of counterterrorism legislation to target human rights defenders. More..

Turkish police raided IHD Diyarbakir office, detained board member

Turkish police in February raided the Human Rights Association (İHD) Diyarbakır branch and detained board member Ferhat Berkpınar. More..

Female inmates subjected to mistreatment and humiliating practices in Bakırköy Prison, said CİSST lawyers

Lawyers from the Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST) said female inmates in Bakırköy Prison were subjected to mistreatment and humiliating practices. Berivan Korkut and Gülizar Tuncer said rights violations occurred especially in the provision of healthcare.

An X-ray of the wrists of architect and human rights defender Mücella Yapıcı, who is serving an 18-year sentence for allegedly aiding in attempts to topple the Turkish government during the Gezi Park protests of 2013, was circulated on social media in June. The image showed handcuffs on Yapıcı’s wrists, clearly indicating that she was X-rayed while she was still handcuffed. Yapıcı also underwent eye and heart examinations while in handcuffs More.

Turkish court upheld rights leader’s life sentence

A Turkish appellate court in December upheld the conviction of businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala, who has been behind bars since October, 2017, on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Turkey. The appellate court ruled that an April verdict “complied with the law.” More..

An İstanbul court on April 25 had sentenced Kavala to aggravated life and his co-defendants to 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests in 2013. More..

The appellate court also upheld the convictions of the seven other defendants — Mücella Yapıcı, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay, Mine Özerden, Şerafettin Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi – who were each sentenced to 18 years for “aiding and abetting the attempted overthrow of the government.”

Following the Turkish court’s ruling, President Erdoğan said the decision to jail Kavala for life showed that Turkey’s courts were independent. Erdoğan said the ECtHR as well as Ankara’s Western allies would have to abide by the court’s verdict. More..

In February the Committee of Ministers, the executive organ of the CoE, decided to take action against Turkey for failing to release Kavala despite a 2019 ECtHR ruling that found his detention was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender. The committee ordered that the case be submitted to the ECtHR for review, officially beginning an infringement procedure against Turkey. More..

In May a request by the co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Turkey by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to visit Kavala in prison was denied by the Turkish Justice Ministry. More..

In July the ECtHR said Turkey had failed to comply with a binding judgment of the court issued in December 2019 which found that Kavala’s detention violated his fundamental rights. The judgment came in response to a question by the Committee of Ministers as to whether Turkey had complied with the court’s ruling. More..

In November Kavala said in a written interview he gave through his lawyers with the pro-opposition Halk TV that his detention was unlawful and that the Turkish government was keeping him in prison to lend credibility to the Gezi Park case. More..

Turkey refused to provide further information on Kavala case to OHCHR

A letter sent in November by the Turkish Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that Turkey would not provide further information to the UN on the case of rights activist Osman Kavala. More..

Turkey’s response to UN letter on Kavala case didn’t not address allegations: UN special rapporteurs

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

Turkey’s response to a joint letter sent by UN special rapporteurs in September on the case of Osman Kavala did not address the allegations contained in the communication, UN special rapporteurs said in a statement in November. More..

2 human rights activists appeared in court for allegedly violating the law on demonstrations

Hüseyin Yaviç and Sevim Çiçek from the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) appeared in court in eastern Van province in May for allegedly violating the law on demonstrations. They were detained by the police in October 2021 while delivering a press statement in front of Van University Hospital. More..

Justice prevailed as Turkey’s top court overturned convictions of 4 rights defenders: Amnesty

Taner Kılıç (photo: Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals in November 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.

“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. More..

Turkey arrested doctors’ union chair after chemical weapons comment

Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, head of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) as well as an expert in forensic medicine and a prominent human rights defender, was taken into custody at her home in İstanbul on October 26 and put in pretrial detention due to remarks calling for an investigation into claims of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish military against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. More..

Answering questions posed by BBC from Sincan Prison in Ankara through her lawyers, she said her imprisonment was an attempt by the Turkish government to silence society and that she’s facing a “political” process. More..

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