Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Rights defenders in Büyükada trial released from prison

Rights defenders in Büyükada trial released from prison

Eight rights defenders who were in prison released in hearing, case merged with that of AI Turkey head Taner Kılıç


Ten human rights defendants who were arrested during a workshop on Istanbul’s Büyükada island and Taner Kılıç, Amnesty Turkey head who was arrested separately, appeared before the Istanbul 35th High Criminal Court on October 25.

The court ruled for the release of suspects Günal Kurşun, İlknur Üstün, İdil Eser, Nalan Erkem, Peter Steudtner, Ali Gharawi, Özlem Dalkıran and Veli Acu. Dalkıran and Acu were, however, given an international flight ban. Judicial control measures for Şeyhmus Özbekli and Nejat Taştan, who were released earlier in the same case pending trial, were lifted.

The releases were widely in keeping with the prosecutor’s request, who had asked for all suspects but Veli Acu to be released.

The court also ruled to merge the case with another trial where Amnesty Turkey head Kılıç -- who has been imprisoned since June -- stands accused of “membership in the organization FETÖ.” Both his lawyer and lawyers for the other defendants had asked to keep the cases separate; as Kılıç was in prison at the time the Büyükada activists held their meeting.

The trial into Kılıç -- which is no longer separate -- was heard on October 26 in İzmir. Kılıç is accused of having used ByLock -- an application the Turkish judiciary associated with membership in what they call “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)”. Kılıç denies having downloaded or used ByLock at any time. Another piece of evidence used against Kılıç is that he had a bank account with Bank Asya, formerly a bank affiliated with the Fethullah Gülen group.

The İzmir trial sent the case files to the Istanbul 35th High Criminal Court, in keeping with the Istanbul court’s decision to merge the cases.

The next hearing in the now merged trial is on November 22.

The ten activists are accused of “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization” while Kılıç is accused of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Defense statements

Amnesty’s Taner Kılıç and İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition attended the hearing via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS.

Özlem Dalkıran from the Helsinki Citizens Association testified first in the hearing.

“I don’t understand how a workshop of a group of rights defenders turned into a meeting of an armed terrorist organization,” said Dalkıran. She said the indictment claimed that the meeting was secret, but in fact, the meeting was not secret and was organized in the most crowded part of the hotel.

In response to accusations regarding her refusal to share her phone’s PIN code with police officers while under custody, Dalkıran said, “I said I had to touch and see the phone to remember my password. The police said it wasn’t important, but the prosecutor has used it to make it look like I wasn’t cooperating.”

“I’ve always been against all kinds of violence all my life. I have fought all kinds of armament. Now I am being accused of membership in a terrorist organization. I deny these charges,” she said.

German citizen Peter Steudtner testified next, saying he has worked as a trainer and facilitator for 20 years, having participated at workshops in Mozambique, Angola, Kenya, Palestine and Myanmar. He said he worked in a project helping child soldiers to reunite with their families in Mozambique. He said he provided completely lawful educational services in managing trauma and data and communication security.

Steudtner also said his access to justice had been obscured; that he had been denied translators under custody, and that he had been unable to use his right to silence.

Rejecting all the accusations, Steudtner asked for his acquittal.

Women’s Coalition representative İlknur Üstün said she worked on gender equality and had prepared reports on women’s and children’s issues across Turkey, helping bring about many successful outcomes.

“My work is on statistics about children who have been abused and women who have been subject to violence. It is important that this data are preserved,” she said.

İdil Eser, the Director of Amnesty Turkey, said “Defending human rights is not a crime,” adding that she rejected all the accusations. In response to a question on whether she’d like to plead guilty under Turkey’s “effective repentance” law -- in which lighter sentences or none are given if the defendants cooperates with the authorities on the case, she said: “I don’t want to benefit from effective repentance, because I haven’t done anything to regret. I did what I had to do as a rights defender.”

Swedish citizen Ali Gharavi in his testimony said he has worked for helping refugees fleeing torture and war, adding that he had no information about the terrorist organizations mentioned in the indictment.

“I have been facing a violation of my own human rights for 115 days. I am worried about my health and mental state,” he said, adding that when he suffered a heart disease, he had been denied an English-speaking doctor although he was taken to the hospital twice during his detention.

Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association also submitted defense testimony. He said he is already on trial in another case on similar charges over accusations made by an academic, Kurşun said, “The fact that I am a defendant in another trial is shown as a rationale for my formal arrest.” He said of the 4,000 people on his phone, only one was a ByLock user. “This should be evidence in my favor. There would perhaps be many more on your phone,” Kurşun said, directly addressing the judge.

In response to accusations that he once wrote for the shuttered Today’s Zaman daily, he said today’s pro-government writers and officials İbrahim Kalın, Beril Dedeoğlu and Markar Esayan also wrote at Today’s Zaman at the time.

Finally, Nalan Erkem from the Helsinki Citizens Association and Human Rights Agenda Association’s Veli Acu testified.

Erkem said the meeting had not been a secret one. “I kept putting our photos on Instagram. How can that be a secret meeting?” She also said she had had bleeding of the stomach, but was denied treatment in prison.

Veli Acu said he was being accused on the basis of an email which had in its subject “Nuriye and Semih cannot die,” in reference to Nuriye Gülmen ve Semih Özakça, two individuals who have been on a hunger strike for months after being expelled from their teaching jobs under the state of emergency. The two have been associated with the banned organization DHKP-C by Turkish officials. “We can have no links to any terrorist organization. Nobody who even glorifies violence can find a place among our ranks, let alone practicing it.”

He asked for his release citing health reasons and that his wife was due to give birth in ten days.