Human rights watchdogs on Monday called on Turkish authorities to ensure that all charges against Öztürk Türkdoğan, co-chair of Turkey’s oldest human rights group, the Human Rights Association (IHD), are immediately dropped.
In a statement published on its website, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Türkdoğan was scheduled to stand trial on February 22 on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.” HRW urged the Turkish government to stop bringing baseless criminal charges against people involved in legitimate and peaceful civil society activities.
“The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the long-term co-chair of the Human Rights Association, is an attempt to criminalize legitimate human rights work and the right to free speech,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Centra Asia director. “The fact that Ankara prosecutors prepared three indictments against Türkdoğan in a single month for speeches and statements that do not advocate violence and were made over several years, points to a political order from above behind these criminal proceedings.”
If Türkdoğan is convicted, he could face a sentence of between five and 10 years in prison. He is also being prosecuted in two other trials on charges of insulting Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and the Turkish nation. Both charges carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.
In a statement on its website, Amnesty International also called on authorities to drop all accusations and charges against Türkdoğan.
“The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan is an undisguised attack on this one human rights defender and also on all those who speak out for human rights in Turkey,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s deputy director for research for Europe. “With these spurious charges against the co-chair of Turkey’s longest-standing human rights organisation, the prosecuting authorities send a chilling message that increases the climate of intense fear among Turkey’s already beleaguered human rights community.”
Hall added that the criminalization of human rights defenders and of the Human Rights Association were the true insults and that the authorities’ unrelenting attack on Turkey’s civil society had to end.
Türkdoğan was briefly detained in March 2021 after a police raid on his home in Ankara. He was questioned by the police without a lawyer present and released under judicial supervision. Türkdoğan was banned from traveling abroad and must check in at a police station twice a month.
Türkdoğan said he was targeted for urging authorities to carry out an investigation into the killing of 13 civilians on February 15, 2021 during a military operation in northern Iraq’s Gare province.
“The Turkish state loves to accuse all citizens, human rights defenders, politicians, activists, trade unionists and students of membership in a terrorist organization. There is probably no other country in the world that accuses so many of its own citizens,” he added.
According to HRW the government should stop harassing human rights defenders and ensure that they can carry out their activities without fear of reprisals, arrest, and abusive criminal proceedings.