Detention of human rights defenders in Turkey extended for another 7 days

The detention of a group of human rights defenders who were taken into custody on July 5, 2017 during a workshop at a hotel on İstanbul’s Büyükada has been extended for another seven days, the Cumhuriyet daily reported on Tuesday.

The human rights activists, who have been under detention since last Wednesday and would have remained in custody for only seven days, will be held for another week. The activists are accused of membership in a terrorist organization.

They are also accused by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and pro-government media of plotting a follow-up to a July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

According to the report, the houses of the detained activists were raided and three books, including a book by renowned Turkish author Ece Temelkuran, CDs on women’s studies, SIM cards, two old mobile phones and digital materials were seized in the house of İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the German Parliament Bundestag Committee on human rights, Matthias Zimmer, has urged Turkey’s ambassador to Germany over the detention of two human rights activists working for Amnesty International, calling on Turkey to release them. It was reported that Zimmer sent a letter to Turkey’s Ambassador Ali Kemal Aydın calling for the immediate and unconditional release of İdil Eser, the director of Amnesty International’s Turkey office, as well as its Turkey chairman Taner Kılıç.

Zimmer said the allegations against Eser and Kılıç were “incomprehensible,” with their arrest being a “unique precedent.” It gave the impression of a “drastically worsening human rights situation in Turkey in the eyes of both the Bundestag Human Rights Committee and the German public.”

Moreover, several Turkish human rights associations have slammed a number of media reports on the recent detention of human rights activists for “defaming and criminalizing” the rights activists. Pro-government media outlets have accused 10 human rights defenders of being involved in “intelligence activities” with foreign powers, reported Hurriyet Daily News.

“It is impossible for us to accept news articles defaming and criminalizing them despite official statements that the investigations are still ongoing. Issues that have not even been told to lawyers and suspects, and those not included in the investigation files, are published as though they were real,” Human Rights Association (İHD) president Öztürk Türkdoğan said in a joint press conference on July 11.

“The way the activists were detained, the treatment they faced and the articles published about them are violating the principle of the presumption of innocence and human rights,” Türkdoğan said in the conference attended by six rights groups including Amnesty International’s Turkey branch, the Human Rights Association (İHD), and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV). “[News reports] have spoken about Gezi [2013 anti-government protests], or a new coup attempt. These things are beyond imagination,” he added. 

Oya Aydın, a lawyer, said lawyers have not been able to obtain information about the accusations as a confidentiality order has been imposed on the investigation. “All authorities that we have been able to contact are saying that the investigation was launched after a denunciation. Thus, we are aware that we are not facing a usual prosecution investigation, which usually is based on prepared evidences,” Aydın said.

“The investigation file was given to the prosecutor two or three days after their detention. And the file did not include any evidence,” she added. Saying that house raids on detainees’ addresses were still ongoing and the official search reports included terms like “involvement in and abetting terror,” Aydın noted that such language was “not normal.”

“What we have understood from these reports is that there is a denunciation and what our friends are being accused of is not clearly certain in the file. They were seized, detained, and the authorities will decide whether there is a crime based on evidence seized after the detention,” she added.

Feray Salman, the general coordinator for the Human Rights Joint Platform (İHOP), said the dates and the structure of the meeting in Büyükada were determined in a meeting in April in the southern province of Antalya. Salman said the content of the meeting was within the framework of “capacity building” and that on the first two days of the meeting there were workshops on digital security for the human rights defenders.

“Peter Steudner was a facilitator at the workshop on the effects of the shocking and escalating violent environment in the country in the last two years against human rights defenders and the ways in which human rights defenders had to deal with these issues. Ali Gharavi was another facilitator at the workshop on providing web security against hate offences toward non-governmental organizations’ websites,” she said.

Turkish police, acting on an anonymous tip, raided a hotel on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands off İstanbul, and detained İdil Eser from Amnesty International (AI), İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition, lawyer Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association, lawyer Nalan Erkem from the Citizens Assembly, Nejat Taştan from the Equal Rights Watch Association, Özlem Dalkıran from the Citizens’ Assembly, lawyer Şeyhmuz Özbekli and Veli Acu from the Human Rights Agenda Association. Two foreign trainers — a German and a Swedish national — as well as the hotel owner, who was later released, were also detained.

Meanwhile, a staunch mouthpiece of the autocratic regime of Erdoğan, Star daily, has reported that ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Erzurum deputy Orhan Deligöz accused the human rights activists of planning to divide Turkey in four meetings at the same hotel after a failed coup attempt last July.

“The last meeting was held in an illegal and secret room in the back part of the hotel with the attendance of nine Turks and two foreigners, 11 people in total. We know that these meetings were controlled and guided by the US’s CIA and Britain’s MI6 agents,” said Deligöz.

According to the report, the human rights defenders were found discussing a Turkish map when they were detained and were planning a second “Gezi Protest,” which was sparked in the summer of 2013 in protest of government plans to demolish Gezi Park in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood, after the completion of a “March for Justice” by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who walked from Ankara to İstanbul to protest the arrest of a CHP deputy.

Deligöz claimed that one of the activists was part of the faith-based Gülen movement, labeled by the Turkish government as the mastermind of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a claim the movement strongly denies.

“They call themselves human rights activists. These people are the ones who were trying to destroy the Turkish Republic’s territorial integrity during the Gezi Park protests. There is someone among them in particular, he is the academic hitman of FETÖ [a derogatory term used by government circles to refer to the Gülen movement]. This hitman is Assistant Professor Günal Kurşun from the Çukurova University law faculty, who first reacted when FETÖ/PDY [Parallel State Structure] was listed red and who wrote for Today’s Zaman. He was later dismissed from Çukurova University,” said Deligöz.

President Erdoğan accused the recently detained human rights defenders of plotting a follow-up to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt during a press conference in Hamburg on Saturday and signaled that the detention of the rights defenders could turn into imprisonment.

However, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty has called on the G20 countries on Saturday to stand up against the ‘democratically elected hyper-nationalist leaders’ in countries such as, Turkey, Philippines, and Hungary. Shetty drew attention to the latest detention of human rights activists in Turkey and said, “the country is in a serious human rights crisis.”

Noting that Erdoğan is one of the newly emerged ‘democratically elected hyper-nationalist leaders’ in the world, Shetty stated that “There are hyper-nationalist countries where they take measures and the domestic support increases… The global system is challenged by this.

Amnesty International, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Human Rights Watch and the United States have called on the Turkish government to release the detained human rights defenders. (SCF with July 11, 2017

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