A group of United Nations experts including Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rappourteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism has condemned the use of terrorism charges against human rights defenders and people legitimately expressing dissent in Turkey.
The experts highlighted a number of cases of concern, including the detention of Amnesty Turkey chair Taner Kılıç, the arrest of 10 human rights defenders in July on Büyükada Island, the detention of 14 lawyers from the People’s Law Office, and the recent arrest and charging of leading businessman and civil society activist Osman Kavala.
“We call for the immediate release of all the human rights defenders and lawyers concerned in these cases, and we appeal to the Turkish authorities to drop the charges of terrorism against them,” the experts said.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
“These cases demonstrate a worrying pattern of silencing people whose work legitimately calls into question the views and policies of the Government,” said UN experts and continued that “Most of these accusations of terrorism are based solely on actions such as downloading data protection software, publishing opinions disagreeing with the Government’s anti-terrorism policies, organizing demonstrations, or providing legal representation for other activists.”
The experts said they were concerned that most of the activists remained in detention in conditions that may amount to inhumane or degrading treatment, welcoming the news that some had been granted bail on October 25, 2017.
“Ever since the coup attempt in July 2016 we have witnessed with alarm the arrest, detention and prosecution of people voicing criticism of the Turkish Government and working to protect human rights,” said the experts.
“The people carrying out these activities are lawfully exercising their civil and political rights, and the Turkish authorities are failing to present evidence that such expression poses a risk to national security amounting to terrorism.”
The experts had previously voiced concerns on the issue of the detention of several human rights defenders on 14 July 2017.