Turkey: Justice is done and the convictions of four human rights defenders are overturned

“The ruling by Turkey’s highest court of appeal overturning the baseless convictions of the Honorary Chairman of Amnesty International Turkey and three other human rights defenders is an immense relief, but it also highlights once again the political motivation of prosecutions,” Amnesty International said today.

The judgment of the Court of Cassation on the conviction of Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun – 4 of the 11 human rights defenders in the Büyükada case, who were found guilty in July 2020 – comes more than five years after his arrest in the summer of 2017. The case against Taner Kılıç was dismissed as an “incomplete investigation” and was remanded to the first instance court.

“Today’s ruling puts an end to a travesty of justice of superlative proportions. Although we are immensely relieved that the convictions have finally been overturned, it is disappointing that the court ruled that Taner’s case required further investigation,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“For more than four years, we have seen the gears of injustice work, as the accusations against these four brave human rights defenders have been accepted as facts by successive judicial instances. Today’s ruling reveals the true purpose of these politically motivated prosecutions: to use the courts as a weapon to silence critical voices.”

Taner Kılıç, a lawyer specializing in refugee rights and Honorary Chair of Amnesty International’s Turkish section, was arrested in June 2017 and jailed for more than 14 months. Despite the total absence of evidence, in July 2020 he was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “membership of a terrorist organization.” İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun received 25-month sentences for “assisting a terrorist organization” and spent more than three months in prison in 2017.

In 12 court hearings, it was repeatedly and absolutely proven, including in the State police report, that each of the accusations made against these four human rights activists was unfounded.

In May, the European Court reaffirmed that the Turkish authorities had “no reasonable suspicion that Taner Kılıç h[ubiera] committed a crime.” He also concluded that his pre-trial detention on terrorism-related charges was “directly related to his activity as a human rights defender.” This binding judgment became final in October.

“While we celebrate this ruling today, we are not forgetting that across Turkey many human rights defenders are languishing in prison, living in fear of arrest or facing similar baseless prosecutions,” said Agnès Callamard.

“Today’s victory will give us strength. We will continue to support Taner to the end and fight against the relentless restriction of human rights in Turkey, and on behalf of the people who refuse to be silenced by government threats.”

Additional information

Taner Kılıç and Özlem Dalkıran are founding members of Amnesty International Turkey. Over the past 20 years they have played a crucial role in defending human rights from within the organization and the broader human rights community in Turkey.

At the time of her arrest in July 2017, İdil Eser was the director of Amnesty International Turkey. Günal Kurşun, a lawyer, expert in international criminal law and a member of Amnesty International Turkey since its inception, is a leading human rights defender in the country.

Taner Kılıç was charged with downloading and using the ByLock messaging app, which the prosecution says was used to communicate with the Gülen Movement, a group blamed for organizing a coup attempt in 2016.

However, two expert analyzes of Taner Kılıç’s phone commissioned by Amnesty International concluded that there was no trace that ByLock had been installed on the phone. In June 2018, the prosecution’s arguments were devoid of any legitimacy in the police report submitted to the court, which also concluded that no indication of ByLock installation had been found on Kılıç’s phone. However, the mere fact of downloading or using an application would not constitute sufficient proof of alleged crimes, as the European Court of Human Rights concluded in a judgment concerning another claimant, unrelated to the defendants in the Büyükada case.
İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun were among 10 people, known as the Istanbul 10, who were detained by police while attending a workshop on digital wellbeing and safety on July 5, 2017 on Büyükada Island, in Istanbul.

On October 4, 2017, a city prosecutor filed an indictment against the Istanbul 10 and also against Taner Kılıç, who allegedly knew about the preparations for the workshop and was in contact with two of the accused.
At the first court hearing, held on October 26, the judge accepted the prosecution’s request to merge the prosecution of Kılıç, which had begun in Izmir, with that of the other 10 human rights defenders, even though the accusations The complaints against him had nothing to do with the workshop and the two cases were unrelated.

Previously, Amnesty International had published an analysis of the case against Taner Kılıç and detailed more information about the case in general.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Stefan Simanowitz at [email protected]

Turkey: Justice is done and the convictions of four human rights defenders are overturned