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Turkey: NHC concerned about Court upholding “Istanbul 10” decision

04 December 2020

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) deeply regrets the development of 26 November 2020 in the so-called “Istanbul 10” case, in which the Istanbul Regional Court upheld the Court of First Instance’s 3 July ruling against eleven Turkish human rights defenders. While the Regional Court confirmed the acquittals of Nejat Taştan (board member of Association for Monitoring Equal Rights) and Veli Acu (member of Human Rights Agenda Association), the judges unanimously upheld the sentences which had been handed down against Taner Kılıç (lawyer and former Chair of Amnesty International Turkey), Günal Kurşun (lawyer and member of Human Rights Agenda Association), İdil Eser (former Director of Amnesty International Turkey), and Özlem Dalkıran (former member of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly).

Kılıç has been sentenced to a 6 year and 3 month prison sentence for “membership of a terrorist organisation,” while Kurşun, Eser, and Dalkıran each received sentences of 1 year and 13 months on grounds of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation without being a member thereof.” The NHC is deeply concerned by the chilling message this ruling sends to those seeking to protect and promote human rights in Turkey, and to the human rights community in Turkey as a whole.

The Regional Court argued that the previous 2 acquittals and 4 convictions were in accordance with both procedural and substantive law; that there was sufficient evidence; and that the establishment of proof had been met. This is contrary to the NHC’s previous analyses of the case (see below), where we found numerous infringements of the defendants’ fair trial rights throughout the lengthy trial, including the consideration of evidence that have previously been shown to be without merit.

As of publication, the four convicted human rights defenders have not yet been detained; they also retain the right to appeal the decision before the Court of Cassation (Yargıtay), which is the court of last instance.

The NHC will continue to monitor the trial, and call for the international trial rights and norms to be respected throughout the appeal procedure.

Background Information

On 5 July 2017, ten human rights defenders were taken into custody while attending a training on “digital security and protection of human rights defenders” on Büyükada Island off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. The group consisted of eight representatives of civil society organisations in Turkey and two non-Turkish trainers. Those taken into custody were not given access to legal counsel for more than a day, and their lawyers were only informed about the detention process 30 hours after the police raid. While two of the accused were released on probation, the remaining six were subsequently detained for 113 days. Despite being in jail at the time of the training, the case of Taner Kılıç—a lawyer, former Director, and now, honorary president of Amnesty Turkey, was merged with that of the “Istanbul 10,” based merely on “close contact” with one of the “Istanbul 10” detainees—a fellow colleague at Amnesty Turkey. Kılıç was only released from pre-trial detention after 14 months in jail.

On 27 November 2019, the Prosecutor requested acquittal for five defendants, including the two non-Turkish trainers, and imprisonment for up to 15 years for six of the defendants. Kılıç was accused of “membership of a terrorist organisation,” while Nejat Taştan (Association for Monitoring Equal Rights), Günal Kurşun (lawyer and Human Rights Agenda Association), İdil Eser (Amnesty Turkey), Özlem Dalkıran (Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly), and Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association) were each accused of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation without being a member thereof.” All six were also accused of abetting terrorists through their organisations’ activities. Disregarding all counter evidence presented by the attorneys of the eleven defendants, the Prosecutor erroneously claimed that the 2017 training was instead a meeting bringing together supporters of three groups recognized as terrorist organisations: Fetullah Gülen Movement/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK/KCK), and The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

The trial had originally been set to conclude on 19 February 2020, however upon defence request, a resumed hearing was scheduled for 3 April 2020. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this resumed final hearing, was subsequently postponed to 3 July 2020.

About the NHC

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) is a non-governmental organization that operates within the OSCE-area. It contributes to dialogue and cooperation between states and civil society in the area of rule of law and human rights. Founded in 1987, the NHC represented Dutch civil society in the Helsinki Process, following the examples of sister Helsinki Committees from across the OSCE area. NHC’s current activities include human rights defence, integrity and accountability, access to justice and criminal justice reform.

Human Rights Defence Programme

The NHC’s Human Rights Defence programme works to ensure informed understanding of and attention to fundamental freedoms and the need for the rule of law, through targeted human rights communications campaigns; contributes to the resilience of civil society to engage on the topic of human rights; brings attention to, and supports, human rights and human rights defenders (HRDs), particularly in countries where human rights are being challenged and the space for civil society is being curtailed; and, advocates for progressive policy responses by states and regional organisations to mainstream human rights into their relations with other states.