On 2 June last year, Özge Ünlütezcan, a 24-year-old drama student, grabbed her phone to send out a series of tweets. Shortly after, she was stunned to be called into a police station where she was questioned and detained for 18 hours. She says when I call her that she was simply using her right to pass on information about the protests that had begun in Gezi Park some days earlier, and which were rapidly sweeping the country.
She was not alone in her response. During that summer of protests, Turkey’s 10 million-plus Twitter users lit up the internet with millions of tweets detailing what was happening. So why are Özge and 28 other young people now facing up to three years in prison?
It can only be explained as a political attempt by the Turkish authorities to clamp down on social media: a proverbial ‘slap down’. In my six years working as a campaigner on Turkey, I have spoken to countless ordinary people who have been caught up in a justice system that time and again victimizes them for simply exercising their rights. Yet the Izmir Twitter trial of Özge and 28 others demonstrates the ludicrous lengths to which Turkey will go to suppress people’s free expression.
Needless to say, the arbitrary manner with which unfair laws are implemented is also at the root of the justice system that lets off state officials who commit human rights abuses.
In the year since Özge and her co-defendants posted their tweets, Amnesty activists around the world have launched a Twitter campaign targeting the Turkish Prime Minister – who is named as a ‘victim’ in the case against the 29 young men and women – and calling for the case to be dropped. This Monday 14 July they will appear in court again; we have another crucial opportunity to tweet the Turkish Prime Minister and defend Özge’s right to express her opinion peacefully.
Özge is aware of Amnesty’s campaign and grateful to everyone who has raised their voice in support. “I spoke to my lawyer who thinks that making much noise about our case is the best thing we can do and Amnesty’s attention on our trial is very important”, she says. Does she still tweet? “Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I am now careful about what I tweet”, she says, adding that she and the other defendants, previously strangers, have been brought together by the trial, and over Twitter.
On Monday 14 July, her case may conclude. How does she feel? “I worry about what could happen if I am convicted. I worry about how this could affect my future.”
Stop this blatant injustice. Tweet the Turkish Prime Minister before Monday and ask him how he was victimized by the tweets.
Support Özge and the other 28 defendants by symbolically retweeting her tweet below.
Translation: Gündoğdu needs lemon, vinegar and milk, get it there urgently! Very urgent! #direnalsancak #direnizmir’
(Lemon, vinegar and milk are known to alleviate the effects of teargas)
Amnesty’s Turkey Researcher Andrew Gardner will be live tweeting from the court on Monday. Follow him @andrewegardner