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Civil Society Leaders Detained in Turkey: Call to Action

16 November 2018

On 16 November 2018, at least thirteen civil society leaders were detained in Istanbul and several other towns across Turkey. Among them are: current and former staff of Anadolu Kültür, an NGO promoting artistic exchange and cultural diversity; Meltem Aslan Çelikkan, Co-Director of Hafiza Merkezi, Truth Justice Memory Centre; Yigit Ekmekçi, Chairman of the Executive Board of Hafiza Merkezi; Betül Tanbay, professor and former member of the Taksim Platform; and Turgut Tarhanlı, professor in human rights law and one of the founders of Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly.

Many spent the day in lengthy interrogation procedures, often while the prosecution refused to provide information about the nature of the accusations. The arrested prominent human rights and civil society leaders are reportedly accused of being involved in a hierarchical structure with Osman Kavala, imprisoned since October 2017. Only some of the detainees were released, with travel bans and ‘legal control’ imposed, the modalities of which are yet to be defined by the prosecution.

According to the statement released by the Istanbul Security Directorate today, Kavala has attempted ‘to overthrow the government by force’ through activities meant to maintain and expand the Gezi Park protests in 2013. No formal indictment against Kavala has been issued despite prolonged incarceration, which raises major due process concerns.

Accusations against Kavala have no ground in international law. They are an attack on legitimate and non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and the right to participate in public life. Implicating Kavala and key civil society leaders in a made up coup attempt during the world-known environmental protests in Istanbul five years ago, demonstrates that Turkey’s leadership intent to restore relations with Europe is not accompanied by commitment to put a halt to intimidating critics.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee calls on the Dutch government, the EU Member States, the European External Action Service, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to take all urgent measures available to them, including using diplomatic tools, to expedite an immediate release of the detained civil society leaders, and drop charges against Osman Kavala.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee calls on the Dutch government, the EU Member States, and the European External Action Service to convey to the leadership of Turkey that any further progress in relations with Turkey, including in economic relations, is conditional to measurable improvements in its human rights performance, in particular when the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are concerned.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee urges Turkish authorities to stop using law enforcement and the judicial system to infringe upon civil and political rights of its citizens.