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Expect trouble for not toeing Erdogan presidency’s political line

Expect trouble for not toeing Erdogan presidency’s political line

The shockwaves set off by the sentencing of human rights defenders in Turkey are being felt all over the world as the experts from the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and various other organizations have expressed their deep concern over the deepening human rights crisis under the "authoritarian" rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Late last week, a Turkish court convicted Amnesty International's former Turkey chairman, Taner Kilic, of membership in a "terror organisation" and sentenced him to six years and three months in prison.

The court also convicted three other human rights activists – Gunal Kursun, Idil Eser and Ozlem Dalkiran – for terrorism-related activities in a case which is being widely described as "a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions."

In July 2017, police raided a human rights workshop organized by members of the Istanbul 10 – some of whom were founding members of Amnesty International in Turkey – and arrested 10 activists. Kılıc, its former chair, was added to the list of arrested a month later.

All of them were charged with assisting the US-based Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO) which has been designated as a terror outfit by Erdogan after the failed 2016 coup.

Kılıc was in fact accused of membership of a terrorist organisation for just having downloaded a mobile messaging application.

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"Not only is the mere possession of ByLock, which boasts a million users worldwide, an insufficient justification for arrest and detention, but the Istanbul cybercrime police department and an independent expert have separately disproven allegations that it was ever on his phone. Three years since their arrest, the evidence compiled to support the charges has yet to clearly demonstrate how their activities amounted to terrorism," Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, had said just before the sentencing was announced.

The prosecutor has attempted to link the human rights defenders to different "terrorist" organizations through circumstantial evidence gathered only after the arrest, the expert said.

Noting that the arrests occurred at a time of particular political sensitivity in Turkey, approaching the one-year anniversary of the 2016 coup attempt, Lawlor had called on the government and the prosecution to show strength by dismissing the charges when faced with a situation where evidence from investigations has done little to corroborate them.

"If any of the 11 human rights defenders receive a guilty verdict, Turkey is sending a message that no one is fully free to stand up for human rights in the country,” Lawlor had said.

However, while the court released seven others, the experts could not save Kılıc, Idil, Ozlem and Gunal from getting convicted.

"We have borne witness to a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. This verdict is a crushing blow not only for Taner, Ozlem, Idil and Gunal and their families but for everyone who believes in justice, and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond. The decision of the court is staggering. During 12 court hearings, each and every allegation has been comprehensively exposed as a baseless slur. The court's verdict defies logic and exposes this three-year trial as the politically motivated attempt to silence independent voices it was from day one," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher who observed the hearing.

"This case has been a litmus test for the Turkish justice system. As such, it is tragic to see the part it has played and continues to play in criminalizing the act of standing up for human rights. We will continue to stand with our friends and colleagues as they appeal these shameful verdicts," he added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, had in its 2019 report, observed how Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework as the consolidation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's unchecked power continued.

"Executive control and political influence over the judiciary in Turkey has led to courts systematically accepting bogus indictments, detaining and convicting without compelling evidence of criminal activity individuals and groups the Erdogan government regards as political opponents. Among these are journalists, opposition politicians, and activists and human rights defenders. The largest group was people alleged to have links with the movement run by US-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt," wrote Kenneth Roth, an American attorney who is also the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.

Roth observed that the Turkish authorities continue to block websites and order the removal of online content while thousands of people in Turkey face criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for their social media posts.

"There has been a dramatic rise in the number of prosecutions and convictions on charges of "insulting the president" since Erdoğan's first election as president in 2014," he said.

With the sentencing of human rights defenders last week, things have taken a turn for the worse in Turkey as another sad chapter would be added in the 2020 annual reports of many human rights organizations..