Why human rights are at risk in Turkey

By: Claire Sadar — Turkey country specialist for Amnesty International

In the summer of 2017, eleven human rights defenders in Turkey were detained and accused of engaging in and supporting acts of “terrorism.” Despite three years of hearings, not a shred of credible evidence has been presented to substantiate these charges. On July 3, the final hearing in their case, the Turkish courts have the opportunity to serve the cause of justice and end this senseless prosecution of eleven courageous individuals who have dedicated their lives to defending and upholding human rights.

Who are the 11 Human Rights Defenders?

(From top left to bottom center)

  • Nalan Erkem is a lawyer who has undertaken significant human rights projects in her roles as a member of Amnesty International Turkey, Citizens’ Assembly, and the Board of Directors of the Izmir Bar Association.
  • Idil Eser is the former Director of Amnesty International Turkey and currently a guest researcher at the Norwegian Human Rights Center at the University of Oslo.
  • Ilknur Ustun is an advocate for sex and gender equality and is the current Turkey Coordinator for the European Women’s Lobby and the Coordinator of the Women’s Coalition.
  • Gunal Kursun is a lawyer and academic specializing in the International Criminal Court and hate crimes, and is on the board of the Human Rights Agenda Association based in İzmir.
  • Taner Kilic lawyer specializing in refugee law, and was a founding member and former Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.
  • Nejat Tastan is a founding member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights.
  • Ozlem Dalkiran is a founding member, former head of media, and former chair of Amnesty International Turkey and a member of Citizens’ Assembly.
  • Peter Steudtner is a freelance trainer specializing in Holistic Security and Nonviolent Conflict Transformation for Human Rights Defenders and Organizations.
  • Ali Gharavi is a technology strategy consultant specializing in sustaining and securing human rights and development work.
  • Veli Acu works on migration and displacement in South-eastern Turkey and is a board member of the Human Rights Agenda Association.
  • Seyhmus Ozbekli is a lawyer who is actively involved in the Rights Initiative and in the Human Rights Centre of the Diyarbakır Bar Association.

Why are they being prosecuted?

All eleven are being targeted for their continued dedication to advancing human rights in Turkey. Taner Kilic is accused of membership in a terrorist organization because the Turkish government claims he downloaded the messaging app allegedly used by those who plotted the failed coup attempt in July 2016. No credible evidence has been presented that Taner ever downloaded this app.

The other ten rights defenders were arrested at a security and wellness training conference. Their legitimate and legal human rights works associated with the conference is being presented as evidence of their material support for terrorism.

The two cases were merged by the court and are now being tried together.

Amnesty has refuted all of the allegations in the indictment of the 11 rights defenders in detail.

What can you do to help?

All of us at Amnesty International USA stand in solidarity with our fellow human rights defenders in Turkey and are calling for the full, immediate, and unequivocal acquittal of our colleagues.

Help us get the word about their case! Send your messages of support and calls for acquittals for all eleven using the hashtags #FreeRightsDefenders and #Turkey.

Example tweets:

The 11 activists have dedicated their lives to defending the rights of others and are potent symbols of what is at risk for the human rights movement and civil society in Turkey as well as across the world.

The 11 defenders have already suffered enough. They have been unjustly and unlawfully punished for simply doing their vital human rights work. All 11 defenders must be acquitted.

You can also send a message of solidarity directly to the rights defenders here.

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