“I am greatly concerned that anti-terrorism laws are being used extensively to silence Turkish human rights defenders and disrupt their legitimate work defending human rights,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur regarding the situation of human rights defenders.
“Turkey is violating some of the pillars of international human rights law – freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to lawfully practice one’s own profession – by repeatedly depriving human rights defenders and lawyers of their freedom,” she said.
Lawlor stated that article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law relating to leaders and members of armed organisations are being used to convict human rights defenders and sentence them to lengthy prison sentences.
“In Turkey, human rights lawyers are particularly targeted for their work representing human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations, victims of police violence and torture, and many people who simply express dissenting opinions,” she said.
She also drew attention to the case of Turkish philantropist and businessman Osman Kavala and called Kavala’s case “emblematic of a pattern of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in Turkey.”
Lawlor stated that she has informed the Turkish Government of her concerns for fourteen human rights defenders serving prison sentences of 10 years or more, including nine lawyers and members of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD).
One of them, Ebru Timtik, died in custody in August 2020 whilst on hunger strike to demand fair trials for her and her colleagues. Lawlor stated that she continues to discuss these cases with the Turkish authorities. She also expressed concern for the physical and mental health of human rights defenders who remain in high-security prisons.
“These include detained human rights defenders Aytaç Ünsal and Fevzi Kayacan, who are not getting the critical medical care they need. Women’s human rights defender Oya Aslan has also been tortured while in detention,” Lawlor said.
Lawlor expressed concern that several human rights defenders and civil society members are on trial for ‘terrorism’ related charges and face up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted. These include members from the Human Rights Association (İHD) such as Eren Keskin, as well as civil society actors and human rights defenders Erol Önderoğlu and Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
“In all court cases – particularly those against human rights defenders – I call on Turkey to ensure impartiality of the proceedings and to respect the right to a fair and free trial,” she said.
Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association also endorsed Lawlor’s statement to Turkey.