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Call to Release Gönül Öztürkoğlu

18 March 2019

Gönül Öztürkoğlu, a human rights defender and the president of the Malatya branch of İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD – Human Rights Association), has been held in pre-trial detention in Turkey for over three months. Öztürkoğlu is charged with acting in junction with a terrorist organization [PKK] for her work conducted on behalf of İHD, and faces a long jail sentence.

On 27 November 2018, in a wave of detentions and imprisonments of civil society leaders and human rights defenders, Gönül Öztürkoğlu was taken into police custody in Malatya, Eastern Anatolia region. On 30 November, Öztürkoğlu was officially arrested. Since then, she has been part of a confidential investigation targeting politicians of predominantly Kurdish political parties, in which she is the only human rights defender. Ms Öztürkoğlu is accused of praising, propagandising for and membership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) —a common tactic used to silence critical voices in Turkey.

The evidence against Öztürkoğlu includes her preparation of a panel for International Women’s Day, making statements, attending meetings and protests, and posting on social media. These were activities she carried out in her legitimate role as a human rights defender and as President of the İHD branch.

Öztürkoğlu is currently detained in Elazığ, 100 km from Malatya, where there are no women’s wards. She was not transported to the court premises for the first hearing in her trial, attending via an online call, unlike the male detainee in the same criminal case who was able to attend the trial in person. The defence requested Öztürkoğlu’s release from pre-trial detention, arguing that the evidence in the case had been collected already, and that there was no reasonable risk of escape. While two detained politicians were released after the first hearing, the motion to release Öztürkoğlu was denied. The next hearing in Öztüroğlu’s is scheduled for 22 March 2019.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (The Hague), the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights (Istanbul), and the Truth Justice Memory Center (Istanbul) call on the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to make an intervention in Öztürkoğlu’s case, urging Turkish authorities to release her from pre-trial detention and to drop charges against her that should never have been brought in the first place.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, and the Truth Justice Memory Center urge the Dutch government and other EU Member States:

  • to ensure an international diplomatic monitoring presence in hearings in Gönül Öztürkoğlu’s case, including the hearing on 22 March 2019;
  • to give Gönül Öztürkoğlu’s case priority attention at the capitals’ level and during high-level bilateral engagements with the Turkish government;
  • to call on Turkish authorities to ensure Öztürkoğlu’s right to a fair trial, including non-discriminatory treatment, by allowing her to attend the next hearing in person;
  • to only strengthen relations with Turkey, including trade and investment ties, if human rights defenders such as Öztürkoğlu are able to carry out their legitimate work without being subject to judicial harassment.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, and the Truth Justice Memory Center call on Turkish authorities to:

  • to immediately release Gönül Öztürkoğlu from pre-trial detention in compliance with Turkey’s international obligations to only impose pre-trial detention as a last resort solution, and to guarantee full compliance with other standards laid down in art. 6 ECHR, including by transporting Öztürkoğlu to the next hearing in her case in Malatya;
  • to drop terrorism related charges for Öztürkoğlu’s non-violent work defending human rights with the İHD;
  • to ensure protection of human rights defenders rather than to manipulate the justice system as a form of retaliation for their work in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, irrespective of ethnicity, language and religion.