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Turkey: Stop judicial harassment of  Civil Society in Southeast Turkey

26 November 2020

The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned about the recent attacks and politically-motivated police custody measures against prominent civil society actors and political opponents in southeast Turkey. Our organisations call on the authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders and other civil society representatives and drop all charges against them, as they are being targeted for their human rights work.

According to the information received, on 20 November 2020 at least 75 individuals including civil society activists, lawyers, journalists, doctors, trade unionists, writers and other human rights defenders and representatives of the opposition party HDP (People’s Democratic Party – Halkların Demokratik Partisi) and former DBP (Democratic Regions Party – Demokratik Bölgeler Partisi) were taken into custody in Diyarbakır and several other cities in Turkey’s southeast region.

They were taken into custody in connection with their alleged involvement with the Democratic Society Organisation (Demokratik Toplum Kongresi – DTK), a coalition of civil society actors and politicians calling for the democratisation of Turkey and the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue. On 23 November, while 70 people were released on probation, the court confirmed the detention of five people, including the former member of Turkish Medical Association’s Executive Board (Türk Tabipler Birliği) and former Board Member of the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD) Diyarbakır Branch, Şeyhmus Gökalp, on the allegations of “membership in a terrorist organisation.”

The police custodies do not appear to be compliant with the procedural guarantees provided for under Turkish law on criminal procedure. These guarantees prescribe summoning suspects to a police station (under Article 145 of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code) as a first step, rather than immediately taking them into custody.  This not only violates domestic and international fair trial standards; it also appears at odds with the commitments voiced by President Erdoğan earlier this month regarding democratic reform. Moreover, the necessity and proportionality of the measures remain dubious, especially when assessed in the current pandemic context in which detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, when no other alternatives are possible. Indeed, these arrests and related investigations appear to be a tactic used to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and civil society in Turkey.

The undersigned organisations call on the authorities to:

  • immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Şeyhmus Gökalp and all other human rights defenders, lawyers and other civil society actors currently under investigation, and drop all charges against them, as those charges are aimed at limiting their rights and obstruct their work;
  • refrain from harassing human rights defenders, lawyers and other civil society actors in Turkey, including through politically-motivated arrests, fabricated criminal investigations and detention, including extensive use of pre-trial detention;
  • guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of detainees in line with the best international practice and standards on the treatment of prisoners;
  • ensure at all times that human rights defenders, lawyers and other civil society actors can exercise their rights, including the right to free expression and association and the right to defend human rights, freely and without hindrance, intimidation or stigmatisation;
  • ensure an enabling environment for civil society in Turkey, given its fundamental role in  a democratic society; and
  • ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and instruments ratified by Turkey.



On 20 November 2020, arrest warrants were issued against 101 individuals and at least 75 people were taken into police custody within the scope of an investigation launched by the Prosecutor’s Office in Diyarbakır. The only evidence brought against them was the fact their names were mentioned in DTK documents. The 24 lawyers, among those who were taken into custody, are also reported to be accused of having worked as observers during local and general elections.

Among the large group of individuals taken into custody are human rights lawyers from the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (Özgürlük İçin Hukukçular Derneği – ÖHD); the Chair of the İHD Adıyaman branch and lawyer Bülent Temel; Board Member of Mesopotamia Foundation (Mezopotamya Vakfı) and lawyer Gevriye Atlı; member of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı – TİHV) Serkan Delidere; President of Rosa Women’s Association (Rosa Kadın Derneği) Adalet Kaya; and medical doctor, former member of Turkish Medical Association’s Executive Board (Türk Tabipler Birliği) and former board member of İHD’s Diyarbakır branch, Şeyhmus Gökalp.


International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

International Federation for Human Rights

Lawyers for Lawyers

Netherlands Helsinki Committee

World Organisation Against Torture