ECHR Determines that Rights of Altan and Alpay were Violated

Turkey : Free Human Rights Defenders

On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on the case journalists Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, who have been imprisioned since September of 2016. Altan and Alpay are accused of using coded language to support the coup attempt in July of 2016. In January, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of Altan and Alpay had been violated, and that they should therefore be released from pre-trial detention immediately. A lower court objected to the ruling and the two journalists ultimately remained in prison.

Altan was ultimately convicted and given a life sentence for his alleged crimes. Alpay was released from prison on March 16, but is still under judicial control and the charges against him have not been dropped.

In response to the ECHR’s ruling, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Gauri van Gulik said:

Today’s rulings are a resounding vindication for these two journalists and a damning indictment of Turkey’s justice system… This ruling cements what was already common knowledge: that they – like more than one hundred other journalists in Turkey – were imprisoned simply for doing their important journalistic work.

This is the first time the ECHR has ruled on a case of individuals detained due to alleged involved in the Turkish coup attempt. There are dozens of other such cases still pending, including that of Amnesty International chair Taner Kılıç.

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Amnesty’s Taner Kilic Spends His 49th Birthday in Prison

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Today, we wish Amnesty Turkey Chair Taner Kilic dogum gununu kutlu olsun (happy birthday). On the occasion of his birthday, Taner’s wife Hatice has been so kind as to share the following reflections on Taner’s ongoing imprisonment:

Today is my husband’s 49th birthday, but I won’t get to see him. For me and my three daughters, it will just be another agonising day without my husband, their father.

My name is Hatice Kılıç and my husband, Taner, has been held in prison in Turkey for more than nine months despite having committed no crime. He was charged with “membership of a terrorist organization”, falsely accused of being involved in the 2016 coup attempt. But there’s no evidence to substantiate this claim, and three independent forensic experts have refuted this.

But if my husband is found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in jail.

About a month ago, we were elated to hear that Taner was due to be released. I stood with my three daughters in the freezing cold waiting for that first hug in nine months, to feel relief at last. But it was not to be. A last-minute appeal meant that Taner’s release was overturned – he was simply driven right past us and taken back into prison.

Our hearts broke again that night, as they have broken every day for nine months without him. My daughter Gülnihal rightly said it’s like a bad dream but we can’t seem to wake up. “It is not something that becomes normal over time,” she said. “On the contrary, my father’s imprisonment becomes more and more difficult for us to endure as each day passes.”

And today, on his birthday, I wonder how he is all on his own without us, and when I will hold him again. When my daughters can have their beloved father home. When even a glimpse of normality can come back to our lives.

We think of Taner and his family on this particularly difficult day and look forward to celebrating Taner’s 49th year with him in freedom soon.

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Good News: All 11 Members of the Turkish Medical Association’s Central Council Released

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On January 30, 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association’s Central Council were detained after the Association released a statement calling for the immediate end to the Turkish military’s incursion into Afrin province in Syria. President Erdogan accused the 11 detained doctors of treason, but the head of the Medical Association defended the statement, saying “We acted as we always do as doctors. We have focused on human life and health. We will continue to act as doctors in every setting we are in. We do not accept the charges,” according to Hurriyet Daily News. Amnesty issued an urgent action in the wake of their detention. Three of those detained were released on February 2 and the remaining 8 were released on February 5, though they are still officially under investigation. Amnesty sincerely thanks all our members who sent appeals to the Turkish government on behalf of the detained members of the Turkish Medical Association. If you wish to join Amnesty USA’s Turkey Regional Action Network, and receive alerts about Urgent Actions like the one sent out on behalf of the Turkish Medical Association, please contact us via the TURKRAN Facebook page.

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The US State Department Speaks Out About Taner’s Case, Calls on Turkish Government to End State of Emergency

Demonstration against the detention of Amnesty Turkey staff, London, July 2017

Yesterday, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert directly addressed the continued detention of Amnesty Turkey’s Chair Taner Kilic, and the deterioration of the rule of law in the country.

The United States is deeply troubled by the February 1 rearrest by Turkish authorities of the Amnesty International Turkey chairman, Taner Kilic. He’s been in pretrial detention since June of 2017. We’re closely following his case along with those against other respected human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, and opposition politicians whose ongoing prosecution under the state of emergency has chilled freedom of expression and raises serious concerns about respect for judicial independence and the due process protections enshrined in the Turkish constitution.

We call on the Turkish Government to end the protracted state of emergency, to release those detained arbitrarily under the emergency authorities, and to safeguard the rule of law consistent with Turkey’s own domestic and international obligations and commitments.

The State Department is just the latest in a series of statements by branches and members of the United States government to condemn Taner’s prosecution and detention. In response to Taner’s re-arrest, the US Helsinki Commission, an independent government agency which promotes human rights, military and economic cooperation in the 57 nations which make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (which includes Turkey) re issued it’s letter from October, which called for

…the timely, transparent, and fair adjudication of the [cases of Taner and the Istanbul 10], lift the state of emergency and immediately restore Turkey’s commitment to international standards of due process and judicial independence.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee called Taner’s detention “illegal” and noted that it is “yet another example of the erosion of democracy in Turkey.”

Another Congressional Committee, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, tweeted that by keeping Taner in jail, Turkey’s government is “undermin[ing] basic human rights and rule of law.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire issued the harshest criticism.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will visit Turkey next week are expected to address the current tension between the two countries, particularly the ongoing situation in northern Syria. State Department Spokesperson Nauert confirmed that Tillerson would bring up the concerns articulated in this latest briefing while in Turkey.

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Taner’s Re-arrest Devastates his Family and Supporters

Taner Kilic

Yesterday, Taner’s family and friends celebrated a brief moment of joy when, after 8 months in detention, the court finally ruled for his release. However, that joy soon turned to mourning. Prosecutors appealed the court’s decision and Taner was immediately taken into jandarma custody upon his release. The court which initially ruled for his release has now overturned its own verdict, and Taner will remain in prison.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, released the following statement, emphasizing the cruelty and injustice of the courts’ decisions:

“Over the last 24 hours we have borne witness to a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey. This latest episode of his malicious detention has dashed the hopes of Taner and those of his wife and daughters who were waiting by the prison gates all day to welcome him into their arms.

“This is the latest example of the crisis in Turkey’s justice system that is ruining lives and hollowing out the right to a fair trial. By riding roughshod over justice and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of his innocence his re-detention only deepens our resolve to continue to fight on Taner’s case. One million voices have already called for his release. He should never have been arrested, and we will not rest until he is free.”

The next court hearing has been set for 21 June, 2018. We are saddened by this setback but will continue to fight for Taner’s freedom. We urgently need you to add your voice, even and especially if you are one of the 1 million who have already demanded that the Turkish government release Taner. Please click here and demand that justice be served and Taner set free.

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Human Rights Defenders Like Taner Kilic Are Being Imprisoned in Turkey

On 6 June 2017, our friend and colleague Taner Kılıç, a human rights lawyer and the Chair of Amnesty Turkey, was arrested. He has been in prison ever since. Taner is currently on trial, charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization”. If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in jail.

He has done nothing wrong. Taner is not a terrorist, Taner is a human rights defender and lawyer. Taner was one of the first lawyers in Turkey to advocate for the rights of refugees and has spent his working life trying to better the situation of refugees who have fled to Turkey.

Taner Kılıç was just doing his job, exposing human rights abuses in Turkey as Chair of Amnesty International in that country. But in June 2017, he was thrown into prison on the baseless accusation of being a member of an “armed terrorist organization”.

One month later, 10 other human rights defenders, including Amnesty International Turkey’s Director, Idil Eser, were detained while attending a routine workshop for human rights activists in Istanbul.

All are on trial for “terrorism” related crimes – an absurd attempt to choke their human rights activism.

Taner is still in prison – and even though the Istanbul 10 have been released thanks to our campaigning, they are still at risk.

Taner and the Istanbul 10 are our friends and colleagues. They have dedicated their lives to peacefully protecting other people’s human rights in Turkey and elsewhere. Painting them as criminals leaves everyone vulnerable to the government taking away their personal freedoms.

We won’t stop until they’re ALL free. Join our call to free Taner and drop the charges against the Istanbul 10. Let Turkey know the world is watching.

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What is Taner alleged to have done?

Since the bloody coup attempt in the summer of 2016, which the Turkish authorities blame on Fethullah Gülen, a massive crackdown on real and perceived opponents of the government swept through Turkey. One of the most common allegations used against thousands of people like Taner is the downloading and use of a little known secure messaging app called ByLock. The authorities claim that Taner downloaded ByLock in 2014.

Taner denies these allegations, he’d never even heard of ByLock until after the coup attempt. Two independent forensic examinations of his phone reveal absolutely no trace of ByLock ever having been downloaded. No credible evidence has been presented by the prosecution.

He is also accused of having an account with a Gülen-linked bank, Bank Asya. Like hundreds of thousands of others in Turkey, Taner did have an account with Bank Asya. He used that account to make direct debit payments to pay fees for the school his daughter attended.

Why has Taner really been imprisoned?

Taner’s treatment is one of many recent attempts to silence critical voices in Turkey. Since the failed coup attempt of July 2016 there are ongoing criminal investigations against over 150,000 people.

In the last year, more than 180 media outlets have been shut down and an estimated 2,500 journalists and other media workers have lost their jobs. More than 120 journalists and media workers are imprisoned pending trial.

Taner, in the words of his family and friends

“Just knowing that there are people suffering or facing injustice makes Taner feel down. He regards other people’s problems as his own and has been working hard for years to do his best to help them.”

Hatice kiliç, Taner’s wife of 25 years

“For more than three decades I worked to help refugees in some of the world’s most difficult places. During that time I met thousands of dedicated people, but none so remarkable and committed as Taner Kilic, a human rights lawyer who I am proud to call my friend.”

Michel Gaudé, Former head of UNHCR in Turkey

“On my twelfth day of detention I became aware that my lawyer would be Taner Kilic and I was very relieved. Beyond being a great lawyer, and the Chair of Amnesty International in Turkey, for me Taner was an ally and a comrade on many struggles, since long ago… The news of his arrest is a sad confirmation that he never accepted compromises.”

Gabriele Del Grande, Italian Journalist and author, who was imprisoned in Turkey

What can I do?

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34 Members of Congress Ask Secretary Tillerson to Hold Turkey Accountable for Violating the Rights of its LGBTQ Citizens

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The deterioration of LGBTQ rights in Turkey over the past few years has not gone unnoticed by Congress. On Thrusday, January 18, 34 members of Congress signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to strongly condemn and work to reverse violations against the rights of LGBTQ Turks.

“LGBTQ people in Turkey have been living in fear for years. And as a result, they’ve been denied the opportunity to participate and make their voices heard in public. That’s a basic violation of human rights that we cannot tolerate from nations who are supposed to be our international partners,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), a Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Rep. Maloney and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) were the leaders of this appeal to Sec. Tillerson.

The letter notes that annual LGBTQ and Trans pride events in Istanbul, events which had previously drawn thousands in peaceful celebration, have been canceled and suppressed with force for the last two years. Most recently, the Governor of Ankara has banned any LGBTQ events in his province, which is home to Turkey’s capital city, in response to a scheduled LGBTQ film festival.

The letter concludes by urging Sec. Tillerson “to publicly speak out against the ongoing abuses in Turkey and to call on the Turkish authorities to immediately revoke this ban.”

The full text of the letter is reproduced below and can also be accessed here.

January 17, 2018

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson

Secretary of State

US Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

 

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to draw your attention to troubling reports that the Republic of Turkey, once among the most open and LGBTQ-friendly countries in the Muslim world, has taken increasingly hostile steps to crack down on public and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning. We request that the State Department and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning these actions and take every necessary step in protecting and promoting LGBTQ civil rights on the world stage.

Recently, the Governor of Ankara indefinitely banned any films and exhibitions related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Turkey’s capital city. The ban was implemented after the governor halted an LGBTQ Film Festival a day before it was scheduled to begin on November 16, 2017. The following week, a district governor in Istanbul banned another LGBTQ film screening, “in order to secure public order and safety.”

Actions taken by these officials are part of a worrisome trend towards restricting peaceful assembly and freedom of speech in Turkey. The Turkish government has used physical force and the adoption of discriminatory laws since at least June 2015 to prevent LGBTQ persons from publicly gathering, citing “social values” and “public morality” as the reason for these actions. In June, 2015, Turkish police used water cannons to disperse the LGBTI+ pride march in Istanbul, injuring peaceful participants. The following year, Istanbul riot police dispersed a Trans Pride resulting in the unlawful detainment of 11 people and violence at the hands of local police.  And this June, Istanbul’s governor banned the city’s Trans and LGBTI+ pride march, citing security concerns.

This trend of suppression of the freedom of assembly for LGBTQ people and their allies signals an acceptance of anti-LGBTQ sentiments held by some Turkish people, including President Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK). President Erdogan refuses to expand, or even protect, the most basic rights for minorities, LGBTQ people and women. This regime’s flouting of international norms and its intolerance of dissent has clearly been on display in Turkey and in its interactions with the rest of the world.

The United States must not stand by as the Erdogan regime threatens human rights. We therefore urge you to publicly speak out against the ongoing abuses in Turkey and to call on the Turkish authorities to immediately revoke this ban. We must ensure that the U.S. remains committed to working with countries to protect all of their citizens, no matter whom they are or whom they love. We look forward to hearing from you regarding the Administration’s plan to address this growing concern in Turkey.

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Tell the Government of Turkey to Drop the False Charges Against Taner and the Istanbul 10

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On January 31, the Chair of Amnesty Turkey, Taner Kilic, will appear in court. This will be the third hearing in his case. Taner has been charged with serious crimes, namely membership in a terrorist organization, based on a ridiculous charge- that he may have had a certain app installed on his phone. Others charged with terrorism because they were also accused of having the same app installed on their phone have had their cases dismissed. Not only does Taner continue to face false charges based on flimsy evidence, he remains in pre-trial detention.

Taner is not the only human rights defender who has been falsely accused of membership in a terrorist organization. A month after Taner’s arrest, the Director of Amnesty Turkey, Idil Eser, was arrested along with 9 other human rights workers (later dubbed the Istanbul 10) on the same trumped up charges. All 10 have been released pending trial.

Click here to sign a petition telling the Turkish government that the charges against Taner, Idil, and the other members of the Istanbul 10 are a gross violation of justice. All charges must be dropped and Taner must be released immediately.

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Lower Courts Refuse to Abide by Constitutional Court Ruling Ordering the Release of Journalists Alpay and Altan

Action at the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam

On Thursday, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that journalists Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, who have both been in prison for more than a year, had their rights violated while in custody and therefore ordered their release. However, just hours later lower penal courts rejected the ruling. Alpay and Altan remain imprisoned.

Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s Director for Europe, said in reaction to the Constitutional Court’s ruling, “Turkey’s highest court has finally broken its silence on the flagrant attack on journalists and other critical voices under the State of Emergency. The ruling must serve as a test case and lead to the release of thousands of others arbitrarily detained under the ongoing post-coup crackdown.”

Both writers, Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet were arrested on September 10, 2016, charged with broadcasting “subliminal messages” announcing an imminent coup on television the day before the attempted coup.

Sahin Alpay was arrested on September 27, 2016. He has been charged with membership in a terrorist organization, as was a former columnist for the newspaper Zaman, which was associated with the Gulen Movement. The Turkish government believes that the Gulen Movement is solely responsible for the coup attempt.

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Congress Urges President Trump to Call for the Release of Taner Kılıç and the Istanbul 10

Taner graphic 1 (003)On Wednesday, December 5, President Trump received a letter signed by over 40 members of Congress, urging him to “publicly call on the Government of Turkey to halt the prosecution of [the Istanbul 10], drop all charges against them, and immediately and unconditionally release those still in detention, including Mr. Kılıç.”

Taner Kılıç, the Chair of Turkey section of Amnesty International, has been in pretrial detention for 162 days, charged with “membership of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ). No credible evidence has been presented to substantiate the claim that Kılıç is a member of so-called FETÖ or any other terrorist organization. On November 22, the Istanbul Court ruled against the release of Kılıç. The next court hearing for Kılıç and the Istanbul 10 is January 31, 2018.

Naureen Shah, senior director of campaigns at Amnesty International USA, stated that Amnesty welcomes “Congressional support for Taner and the Istanbul 10, especially in light of the court’s decision to keep Taner behind bars.” Shah went on to note that “the world is watching as Turkish authorities continue to unfairly prosecute activists, journalists, and lawyers as part of a massive crackdown on civil society. Amnesty continues to call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Taner Kılıç and drop the absurd charges against him and the Istanbul 10.”

You can read Congress’ letter to President Trump, and check to see if your representative signed on in support, here.

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