A Turkish court on Friday convicted Amnesty International’s former Turkey chairman, Taner Kılıç, of membership in a terrorist organization and sentenced him to more than six years in prison, The Associated Press reported.
The court also convicted three other human rights activists — Günal Kurşun, İdil Eser and Özlem Dalkıran — of charges of aiding a terrorist organization, sentencing them to one year, one month each. Seven other activists, including German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, were acquitted of the charges.
Ten of the activists were detained in a police raid in July 2017 while attending a digital security training workshop on Büyükada island, off İstanbul. The 11th activist, Kılıç, was detained separately a month earlier in the city of İzmir.
Ten defendants were charged with aiding different terrorist organizations — the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen; the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); and the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front (DHKP/C). The PKK and DHKP-C are recognized as terrorist organizations by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Kılıç was accused of membership in the Gülen movement. The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding an attempted coup on July 15, 2016 and labels it as a “terrorist organization” (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, or FETÖ). The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, Gülen called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.
The trial heightened concerns about Turkey’s treatment of human rights defenders and helped sour Turkey’s relations with European nations, notably Germany.
Amnesty International condemned the ruling as a “crushing blow for human rights and for justice” in Turkey.
“Today, we have borne witness to a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher who observed the hearing. “The court’s verdict defies logic and exposes this three-year trial as the politically motivated attempt to silence independent voices.”
The four convicted activists, who were released from jail pending the outcome, were expected to appeal the verdict. All 11 defendants maintained their innocence throughout the trial.
Gardner said: “This case has been a litmus test for the Turkish justice system. As such, it is tragic to see the part it has played and continues to play in criminalizing the act of standing up for human rights.”