Amnesty International’s Secretary General Speaks Out Against the Ongoing Case Against Turkish Human Rights Defenders

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Amnesty Turkey’s Honorary Chair Taner Kilic was released from prison a little over a year ago, but the case against him and ten other Turkish human rights defenders has continued to move through the courts. Taner and the Istanbul 10 face another hearing today and Amnesty is calling for an end to this miscarriage of justice.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, did not mince words when calling for the acquittal of Kilic and the Istanbul 10.

After more than two years and without a shred of credible evidence presented to substantiate the absurd charges made against them, it is now time to end this judicial farce and acquit Taner and the Istanbul 10.

Over the course of eight hearings, the prosecuting authorities have failed to present any credible evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, yet the threat of conviction has hung over these 11 human rights defenders but also as a warning to anyone else standing up for human rights in Turkey.

For updates on the case, follow Amnesty Campaigner @MilenaBuyum, who will be in the courtroom during the hearing.

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Join the Tweetstorm for Imprisoned Turkish Civil Society Leader Osman Kavala

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During the first two weeks of this month, Osman Kavala will mark three significant milestones in his life. Yesterday, October 1, was his 700th day in prison since his arrest on charges that he instigated the 2013 Gezi Park protests in an effort to overthrow the Turkish government. Today, October 2, he marks his 701st day in jail and his 62nd birthday. Next week, October 8-9, he will appear in court for the third hearing in his case.

In solidarity with Kavala during this poignant and difficult stretch of time, supporters are using the hashtags #sevgiliOsmanKavala and #dearOsmanKavala to symbolically send messages to Kavala.

 

Kavala is one of the most important leaders of Turkish civil society, heading up the charitable foundation Anadolu Kultur, which supports arts and cultural projects that promote cultural diversity and exchange. Promoting human rights is a major tenant of Anadolu Kultur, and Kavala’s, work.

Kavala was one of the most prominent figures swept up in the crackdown on civil society in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt. Kavala and fifteen others are charged in the Gezi case. Amnesty’s Andrew Gardner has called the charges against Kavala “outlandish” and noted, despite its massive word count,

The 657-page indictment against Osman Kavala and the others does not contain a single shred of evidence that they were in any way involved in criminal activity, let alone conspiring to overthrow the government. During the first hearing in June, Osman Kavala and the other defendants made statements to the court that exposed in great detail the baseless allegations leveled against them.

Amnesty is calling for Kavala to be immediately released and all charges against him and his co-defendants to be dropped.

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Amnesty Issues Urgent Action for Disappeared Men

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Six men disappeared in February. Their families had no idea who had taken them, whether they were alive or dead. On July 28, four of the six suddenly reappeared in custody of the Turkish anti-terrorism authorities. Where they have been in the intervening months has not been determined. Turkish authorities have implied that the four only came into their custody on July 28. No lawyer has been allowed to meet with the four and the authorities have silenced them when their families asked what happened to them during the time they were missing.

The fact that the whereabouts of two men who went missing under similar circumstances is still unknown makes it all the more imperative that the Turkish authorities provide answers as to what happened to these four.

Amnesty has issued an urgent action demanding that the Turkish authorities “promptly investigate to determine the whereabouts of Gökhan Türkmen and Mustafa Yılmaz [the two missing men] and urgently inform their families.”

A Twitter campaign has also been launched with the tags #MustafaYilmazNerede and #GökhanTürkmenNerede (Where is Mustafa Yilmaz/ Where is Gokhan Turkmen?)

Enforced disappearances where widespread in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, but had become rare in the 2000s. Unfortunately, they seem to be making a comeback. In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented at least 4 cases.

 

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Stand up for Pride in Turkey

Gay Pride Parade in IstanbulIstanbul’s 16th annual Pride parade, scheduled for this Sunday, June 30, is at serious risk. Authorities have cracked down on this peaceful celebration every year since 2015, using excessive force to disperse participants.

“Fifty years ago today, LGBTI+ people took to the streets outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City to fight against bigotry and prejudice – and they won. On Sunday, thousands will take to the streets of Istanbul, defying an unlawful ban and possibly braving plastic bullets, teargas and police batons, to celebrate Pride,” said Sara Hall, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director.

Thus far this year, Pride celebrations have been suppressed across Turkey. On June 22, despite an official ban, several hundred people gathered to celebrate pride in Izmir. More than a dozen participants were detained, despite complying with an order to disperse. All have since been released. A Pride march on May 10 at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara was violently broken up after the rector instituted a last minute ban.

In reaction to the banning and suppression of Pride events, Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director said

“These discriminatory decisions are part of a widening and increasingly worrying suppression of LGBTI rights in Turkey… These events are a vibrant celebration of love, inclusion and diversity and the authorities have no place in applying unlawful and arbitrary bans.”

Support the  LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies who will brave the streets of Istanbul on Sunday by signing a petition urging the Turkish Minister of the Interior to allow Pride to go on.

Amnesty International will have observers on the ground to monitor events on Sunday. Follow Amnesty Turkey’s twitter account @aforgutu and Amnesty International Turkey campaigner @MilenaBuyum for updates in Turkish and English.

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METU Rector Issues Last Minute Ban on Pride Parade

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A recent court decision had ended the blanket ban on LGBTQ events in Ankara, clearing the way for the annual Pride Parade at Middle East Technical University (METU) to move forward on May 10. However, on May 6, just days before the event, the school’s rector emailed the student group organizing the event and informed them that the parade would not be allowed to take place.

Despite the province-wide ban on LGBTQ events, the METU Pride celebrations went forward last year without incident after international pressure.

In response to the rector’s decision, Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International’s Campaigns Director for Europe issued a statement condemning the ban and urging the rector to reconsider.

For the last eight years students at this university have marched through their campus to celebrate pride and demand equality and dignity for LGBTI people. It is celebration of love which sends a message of hope to all those struggling to uphold fundamental rights in Turkey and beyond.

Rather than banning Pride events, the university should be supporting and protecting such marches and challenging homophobia and transphobia. Students must be allowed to march without fear of intimidation or violence.

The Rectorate needs to reverse its decision and students must be allowed to march without fear of intimidation or violence.

Show your support for the METU students and tell the rector to allow the Pride celebrations here.

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World Press Freedom Day Draws Attention to Plight of Turkish Journalists

Action at the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam

On World Press Freedom Day, which was observed on May 3, activists all over the world drew attention to the impact rising authoritarianism has had on press freedom and journalists. For the third year in a row, Turkey had the ignominious honor of imprisoning more journalists than any other country in the world. Driving the point home, on May 3, Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected the appeals of journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, finding that their rights were not violated when they were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government.

To amplify the voices of Turkey’s embattled journalists, Amnesty Turkey launched a campaign under the hashtag #NeHaberGazeteci, translated roughly as “How is it going, journalists?” Amnesty also interviewed jailed journalists and published full letters from them online.

Amnesty’s Press Coordinator Beril Eski visited both the Bakırköy women’s prison and the infamous Silivri prison to interview these imprisoned journalists. Journalist Reyhan Hacıoğlu told Eski that “They [the authorities] fear the press. I wish all these human rights violations had not taken place so that we would not have to write about them, but unfortunately they happened.” When I asked what she missed the most about the outside world,  Hacıoğlu replied, “I miss reporting news about a better country”.

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Zehra Dogan Wins 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award

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Kurdish-Turkish painter, photographer, and journalist Zehra Dogan has been award the 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award.

Dogan is a preternaturally tireless creator and activist. In 2016, she was imprisoned for her artwork depicting Turkish military operations in the Kurdish majority Turkish city of Nusaybin. In March 2017, she was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for creating “propaganda” for a terrorist organization. Essentially, her painting was deemed to be supportive of the Kurdish guerilla organization, the PKK, even though the court could not prove Dogan had any connection to the group.

While in prison, Dogan continued to create art with found materials and homemade paint. Despite the fact that guards would seize and destroy the paintings they found, some were smuggled out by friends and colleagues. Dogan continued her journalism behind bars as well, reporting on her fellow prisoners, their hardships, and the conditions in the prison. Some of Dogan’s prison-produced artwork will be exhibited starting next week in Izmir alongside the works of 19 other imprisoned artists and cartoonists.

In her acceptance speech for the Index on Censorship award, Dogan was defiant.

As an artist, imagine yourself in a city destroyed by war. Can you think about anything other than portraying the destruction you see around you?…

Turkey’s prisons are filled with artists, intellectuals and politicians, because we reject these limits forced upon our freedom of expression and we will continue to reject them.

Dogan dedicated her award to her fellow imprisoned artists.

Although they are trying to restrict our freedom of expression in the prisons through the books they refuse to give us and the letters they find “suspect”, there are countless inmates who have overcome this situation through their own productivity. I dedicate this prize to them.

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Human Rights Organizations and the EU Condemn Indictment of Turkey’s Human Rights Leaders

Osman Kavala

Osman Kavala and 15 other Turkish civil society leaders are facing life in prison, charged with purportedly trying to overthrow the government during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. The Gezi protests, which were violently suppressed by the Turkish government, started out as an environmentally-focused protest movement but eventually came to encompass a whole range of grievances, including greater rights for ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.

Kavala, who was one of the most well-respected civil society leaders in Turkey, has already spent more than a year in prison.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations reacted to the indictment by calling for all charges to be dropped against Kavala and his 15 colleagues.

Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said:

These outlandish allegations are an attempt to rewrite history and to silence some of Turkey’s most prominent civil society figures who now face the prospect of being tried by Turkey’s deeply flawed justice system…

The Gezi protests were overwhelmingly peaceful with people simply exercising their rights. They were met by arbitrary and abusive force by police. It should be the authorities’ denial of these rights and the police violence against peaceful protestors that should be examined by the courts, not these 16 civil society figures who have not committed any crime.

A spokesperson for the EU said that the indictments “raise questions as to the adherence of the Turkish judiciary to international and European standards.” The foreign affairs committee of the EU Parliament recommended that the EU freeze its accession talks with Turkey because of its poor human rights record.

Kati Piri, the parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, tweeted:

 

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Turkish Lawyer Eren Keskin, Finalist for Human Rights Award, Denied Right to Travel to Award Ceremony

AI Algeria W4R 2016 - portraits - Eren Keskin

Eren Keskin, outspoken human rights lawyer and co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD) has been named one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award, which recognizes individuals who have “demonstrated a deep commitment to human rights, often working under threat of imprisonment, torture, or worse.” The award is named after former Amnesty International Secretary-General Martin Ennals and the finalists and laureates are chosen by representatives from ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

The award will be presented next Wednesday, February 13, in Geneva, Switzerland. However, Keskin will not be in attendance. She has been banned from overseas travel by order of the Turkish Prime Minister.

Keskin’s work on behalf of vulnerable communities has made her a target of the Turkish government for years. In 1995, she served time in prison for using the term Kurdistan in an article she wrote for a Turkish Kurdish newspaper. Keskin has 143 legal cases open against her, in 69 of which she has been found guilty. She is appealing these verdicts and currently faces a 12.5 year prison sentence and fines totaling $85,000. Her next court hearing is scheduled for March 28.

“People ask, ‘How do you live? How do you endure it?’” Keskin told the Turkish news site Ahval. “For me, the job we do is a way of life and I have never regretted it.”

In December 2016, Keskin talked to Amnesty about the crackdown on free media in Turkey and how Amnesty’s support has helped her endure years of government persecution.

 

 

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Turkey Continues its Crackdown on Civil Society

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On Friday, 13 members of Turkey’s already embattled civil society were detained. The 13, who range from film producers to academics, were apparently targeted as part of the ongoing investigation against Osman Kavala, one of the most prominent civil society figures in Turkey who has been detained for over a year without charges. Amnesty has demanded the release of Kavala in the face of his prolonged detention and the fact that no evidence has presented linking him to the failed coup attempt.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Strategy and Research Manager, Andrew Gardner observed that

This latest wave of detentions of academics and activists, on the basis of absurd allegations, shows that the authorities are intent on continuing their brutal crackdown of independent civil society, and shatters any illusion that Turkey is normalizing following the lifting of the state of emergency.

In fact, Turkey seems to be widening its crackdown. According to Amnesty, the 13 detained on Friday are accused of

organizing meetings to “deepen and spread” the Gezi Park protests, inviting trainers and moderators on the subjects of “civil disobedience and non-violent activism,” carrying out media activities to continue the “Gezi Park process” and activities to stop the export of tear gas to Turkey.

Amnesty goes on to note that “even if true, all these are legitimate activities protected under the rights to freedom of expression, association and the right to peaceful assembly.” Cracking down on those who participated in the Gezi protests would potentially ensnare millions of Turks. According to the Turkish government’s own estimates, around 3.5 million people participated in the protests, which swept from Istanbul and engulfed the entire country in the summer of 2013.

Several of those detained on Friday have been released, but the majority remain in custody.

Download and read Amnesty’s report on this most recent crackdown here.

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