Human rights defenders in Turkey should be released immediately!

In Hamburg we can currently witness a de-facto state of emergency. Peaceful protests are being hampered or even thwarted by a police that uses excessive force and neglect both the right to peacefully assemble and the separation of the executive and judicial branches. Regardless – or maybe precisely for that reason – the police also failed to protect the citizens from the violence from those who seek nothing but.

In Turkey we could witness for some time now what happens if the exception becomes the rule.

When we participated in the meeting of NGOs seeking to protect the freedom of assembly, which was organized by OSCE/ODIHR, we had the privilege of encountering a delegate from the Turkey-based organization “Eşit Haklar İçin İzleme Derneği“.

It is easy to lament the downfall of democracy and the rise of an autocracy in Turkey. But our dear colleagues in Turkey calmly and rationally tried to analyze and understand state actions, and to advocate that the rule of law must apply to all citizens in the same way and that state actions always must be based on laws and international norms.

Unfortunately, the voices of reason are on the defensive in far too many parts of the world and so we learned that a member of our sister organization has been detained, together with seven other human rights defenders.

We have translated their press release about this incident into German and shall reprint it here as a sign of our solidarity:

Human rights defenders in Turkey should be released immediately!

On the morning of July 5th, 8 human rights defenders and 2 experts were detained at a seminar organized for the technical capacity building of human rights defenders during states of emergency. The seminar was being held in the Buyukada Island in Istanbul when plain clothed police officers conducted a raid and detained all participants, confiscating all their belongings. The human rights defenders Nalan Erkem (Citizens Assembly), İlknur Üstün (Women’s Coalition), İdil Eser (Amnesty International), Özlem Dalkıran (Citizens Assembly), Günal Kurşun (Human Rights Agenda Association), Veli Acu (Helsinki Citizens Assembly), Şeyhmuz Özbekli (Rights Initiative), Nejat Taştan (Association for Monitoring Equal Rights) and experts Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner were held under custody for over 24 hours with a restriction order on the communication of their whereabouts to their family, colleagues and attorneys. Their detention was found out accidentally at 9.14 PM of the same day, 12 hours after the detention took place.

The fact that families of the detained human rights defenders were not informed about their detention, that no information was made available due to the order of restriction by the prosecutor, and the conditions of their detention went beyond standard state of emergency rules and regulations, and may amount to incommunicado detention. Additionally, the defenders were detained at 9.30 AM, whereas the detention and 24-hour restriction order were finalized at 2.30 PM, leading to an unlawfully extended detainment period.

The families and attorneys of the human rights defenders were informed of their whereabouts the next day (July 6th), after they had been separated into groups of two and dispersed to police stations across İstanbul. Their period of detention was extended to 7 days, the maximum amount of time under State of Emergency laws. The accusations vary and are often vague, referenced as ‘membership to an armed terror organization’ or merely ‘terror’, not a defined crime under the Turkish Penal Code.

Since news of their detainment, the human rights defenders were targeted in some media sources, where they were accused of being ‘spies’, conducting ‘secret meetings’, and links with the coup attempt of July 15th, the Gezi protests of 2013, and the CIA were fabricated.

According to universal norms, even the state of emergency rule is based on rule of law and cannot be implemented arbitrarily. Therefore, their rights to life, personal liberty and security should be respected in line with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Fair trial standards dictate that presumption of innocence is paramount and the accused shall not be kept in detainment for an unreasonable amount of time without appearing in front of an impartial court.

These eight human rights defenders have dedicated their lives to the protection of human rights in Turkey. Their efforts have helped and inspired many others in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Our colleagues Nalan Erkem, İlknur Üstün, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran, Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Şeyhmuz Özbekli, Nejat Taştan, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner should be released immediately! Arbitaty pressure on human rights defenders in Turkey should cease immediately!

UPDATE: Their detainment was extended for seven more days (until Wednesday, the 19th of July) by the prosecutor, but they have not been charged with any crime.

UPDATE 2: On July 18th, Nejat Taştan has been released on bail. But six of the ten human rights defenders have been jailed pending trial.

UPDATE 3: Nejat Taştan along with the other three human rights defenders has been jailed.

UPDATE 4: Nejat Taştan has been released pending trial under the condition that he must report the the police twice a week.