UN working group accepts 8 arbitrary detention complaints from Turkey

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has accepted eight individual complaints from Turkey under an “Urgent Action” procedure, Euronews Turkish reported on April 3.

Unlike other UN human rights mechanisms, the working group does not require local remedies to have been exhausted to consider a submission admissible.

Speaking to Euronews Turkish, human rights lawyer Kurtuluş Baştimar said the applications were accepted by the UN working group as “systematic rights violations.”

Indicating that the applications were lodged on behalf of eight individuals who had been convicted in judicial proceedings in Turkey, Baştimar added: “The committee took a very important decision with respect to the situation of thousands who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in Turkey. Among the applicants are people who have been arrested on charges of using the ByLock smartphone application, depositing money in Bank Asya and membership in certain associations. With this decision the committee declined to accept those grounds as sufficient for arresting people and depriving them of their liberty. Although these actions are accepted as crimes by the local courts, the committee interpreted them as a form of freedom of expression and the exercise of the right to freedom of association.”

The committee does not require the exhaustion of domestic remedies

Reminding that the UN working group investigates whether arrests and detentions are imposed arbitrarily and whether they comply with international law, Baştimar said: “In Turkey lawyers go to the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] for arbitrary detention cases. However, application to the ECtHR takes many years, and the Strasbourg Court strictly requires the exhaustion of domestic remedies. On the contrary the UN working group does not require the exhaustion of domestic remedies, which means that one can go to the working group without exhausting domestic remedies and without first applying to the Constitutional Court. Unlike the ECtHR, which takes many years to make a decision, the UN working group decides on applications in a short period of time.”

The working group is expected to announce its reasoned decisions in two months.

The UN Human Rights Committee in a decision dated May 28, 2019 found violations in the individual applications of academic İsmet Özçelik and Turgay Karaman, director of the Time International School, who had been taken into custody in Malaysia and brought to Turkey on allegations of being followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, led by Fethullah Gülen. Calling on the Turkish authorities to release Özçelik and Karaman, the committee gave Turkey 180 days to implement the decision, which Turkey declined to do.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began to target adherents of the Gülen movement after two massive corruption and graft investigations that were revealed on December 17 and 25, 2013, which implicated him, four of his ministers and other prominent figures from his government or support base. Accusing the movement of instigating the investigations, President Erdoğan designated the movement as an armed terrorist organization and seized all Gülen-affiliated media outlets, a private bank (Bank Asya) and businesses partially owned by people affiliated with the movement.

After a failed coup on July 15, 2016, which he accused Gülen of masterminding, an accusation repeatedly denied by Gülen, he declared an all-out war on the Gülen movement, in the process locking up hundreds of thousands of people affiliated with the movement and seizing their assets. In its identification of followers of the movement, the Erdoğan government has developed such criteria as using a smartphone application called ByLock, owning an account in movement-affiliated Bank Asya, sending a son or daughter to a Gülenist school, subscribing to the Zaman daily or other perceived Gülenist publications, based on which many were put behind bars.

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