The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on Wednesday called on Turkey to release imprisoned human rights defenders and stop using vague terrorism charges to turn people who stand up for human rights into criminals.
“I am greatly concerned that anti-terrorism laws are being used extensively to silence Turkish human rights defenders and disrupt their legitimate work defending human rights,” said Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor.
Lawler pointed out how Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law are being used to convict human rights defenders and impose on them lengthy prison sentences.
Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation has been criticized by the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nation’s human rights bodies and international human rights organization for years.
Last year UN rapporteurs sent a joint UN letter to the Turkish government to underline that Ankara’s anti-terror law (No. 3713) does not comply with its international law obligations and that the country’s anti-terror legal framework should be urgently revised.
“In Turkey, human rights lawyers are particularly targeted for their work representing human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations, victims of police violence and torture, and many people who simply express dissenting opinions,” Lawlor said.
The case of Osman Kavala, a businessman and human rights defender, is emblematic of a pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Turkey, she said.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December 2019 that the prolonged pre-trial detention of Kavala was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and demanded his immediate release. But Turkey has not abided the ruling despite repeated calls by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Kavala, who has been kept in detention for three-and-a-half years, is also accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt. Those charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.
In May the İstanbul 30th High Criminal Court ruled to keep Kavala in jail as it began to hear the retrial of Kavala and 15 others for their role in anti-government mass protests in 2013, known as the Gezi Park protests.
Lawlor also said she has told the Turkish government of her concerns for 14 human rights defenders serving prison sentences of 10 years or more, including nine lawyers and members of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği, ÇHD).