Strange case of Amnesty’s Kılıç: Turkish prosecutor could find no crime, court could not release him

Taner Kılıç and his wife.

Taner Kılıç (49) is a Turkish human rights advocate and one of the founders of Amnesty International’s (AI) Turkey branch. He has served as chairman of board since 2014. Kılıç, a father of three, is one of Turkey’s most knowledgeable human rights advocates in refugee law and one of the country’s most respected human rights activists. He has tried to raise public awareness of the refugee issue through articles for numerous newspapers and conferences he has given.

Kılıç, the honorary chairman of Amnesty International’s Turkey branch who was detained on Jun. 6, 2017 over alleged links to the Gülen movement; İdil Eser, Amnesty’s director for Turkey; Özlem Dalkıran and Nalan Erkem, members of Yurttaşlık Derneği (Citizenship Association); İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition; Veli Acu and Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association; foreign instructors Peter Steudtner from Germany and Ali Gharavi from Sweden; Nejat Taştan, the general coordinator of the Association of Equal Rights Watch; and Şeyhmuz Özbekli, a representative of the Rights Initiative are standing trial in the “Büyükada Case” and face 15 years’ imprisonment for allegedly “helping an armed terrorist organization” and “becoming a member of an armed terrorist organization.”

These human rights activists are accused by both the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the pro-government media of plotting a coup against the government. Erdoğan described a meeting held by the activists on Büyükada as a coup meeting when responding to questions directed by journalists following the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 8, 2017. Erdoğan said: “Why did they gather in Büyükada? They came together for a meeting that was almost like [a controversial coup attempt on] July 15 [2016]. They were taken into custody based on intelligence. Therefore, judicial proceedings may begin. The call they made is also being made right now. You are also supporting this call by asking this question.”

It is unreasonable to call the open gathering in Büyükada a coup meeting, but Kılıç’s situation is much more tragic because Kılıç has been accused of attending a meeting he could not have attended. Kılıç was detained on June 6, 2017 and subsequently arrested. However, the Büyükada meeting took place one month later, on July 5, 2017.

The absurdity is not limited to this. The eight other defendants were released at the first hearing in the trial on October 25, 2017. In other words, the people who were detained because they were meeting for coup preparations according to Erdoğan’s allegation were all released. However, Kılıç, who was already in prison during that meeting, is still behind bars.

Taner Kılıç

Amnesty’s Kılıç has experienced the lawlessnesses taking place in Turkey in recent years. Once, he was released from prison by the court that was trying him. However, he was rearrested by another court upon the objection of a prosecutor despite the fact this is not permissible under Turkish law. The court in charge of his case was forced to abide by this strange ruling.

The jailed columnists and reporters of the now-closed Zaman daily were also victims of a similar implementation. The members of a court that decided to release the 21 jailed journalists were suspended from their duties, and an investigation was initiated into them by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). The journalists were re-arrested before they had left the prison.

The other lawlessness that Kılıç has been subjected to is the fact that he has been accused because of his familial relations (guilt by association). The prosecutor, who would have been unable to prove his allegations against Kılıç, has tried to implicate Kılıç by naming relatives who have been tried on similar charges.

Mehmet Kamış, the husband of Kılıç’s sister, was a senior executive of the Zaman daily, which was confiscated on March 4, 2016 and then closed after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Photographs taken at family gatherings with Kamış were included as evidence.

Kılıç objected during a hearing. “The husband of my sister is being tried over his [alleged] links to FETÖ. She has been married to this man for 27 years. What could I have done? Should I have prevented this marriage by saying that ‘he may be member of a terrorist organisation one day in the future’? How can this relationship be evidence of a crime?”

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling AKP and President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

On the other hand, the prosecution has alleged that the ByLock mobile phone messaging app was downloaded to Kılıç’s phone in 2014, and on the basis of that, is trying to associate Kılıç with the Gülen movement. Thousands of people have been arrested on the same pretext. However, two independent technical expert reports submitted by Amnesty International about Kılıç’s phone have revealed that there is no trace of the allegedly downloaded messaging application.

Kılıç’s lawyers have also submitted two more reports on the issue. As a matter of fact, the prosecutor’s office has been unable to provide any valid evidence supporting the claim. Even if it was true that ByLock had been downloaded to his mobile phone and was used, it does not constitute evidence of a crime on its own because ByLock was a free application that could be downloaded worldwide. Turkey’s Court of Cassation ruled that the downloading and use of an application cannot be accepted as sufficient evidence for membership in a terrorist organisation and decided that other evidence proving the organizational connection is required.

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.

Another accusation directed at Kılıç is the opening of an account at Bank Asya, which was closed by government authorities in the aftermath of the coup attempt in 2016 over its affiliation with the Gülen movement. However, opening an account in a bank that was established under license from the state and was operating under its jurisdiction cannot constitute evidence of membership in a terrorist organization. Kılıç stated that he was using this account to make direct payments to the school where his daughter was studying. But even this justifiable defense has not been enough to save Kılıç, just like thousands of other Bank Asya customers.

Human rights defender Kılıç has continued to stand trial while in pre-trial detention despite all evidence pointing in his favour. The justified demands made by the lawyers of Kılıç, who has been in prison for almost 14 months, have repeatedly been rejected. His next court hearing will take place on November 7, 2018. His daughters, wife and mother will be again in the courtroom to support him.

We will see if they can break the stubbornness of Erdoğan’s judges this time.

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.

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