On Saturday İdil Eser, the director of Amnesty International Turkey, turns 54.
But this year, instead of celebrating her birthday with friends in one of her favourite Istanbul restaurants, İdil will spend it in a lonely cell inside Turkey’s highest security prison. Her crime: standing up for human rights.
She was arrested, alongside nine other human rights defenders, on terrorism charges just over 100 days ago. On October 4, in an alarming development, a Turkish prosecutor filed an indictment calling for jail terms of up to 15 years for the group – known as the ‘Istanbul 10’ – and for Amnesty International’s Turkey Chair, Taner Kiliç, arrested a month earlier on similar ridiculous charges.
For more than two months after her arrest, Idil (who has no immediate relatives) was not allowed personal visitors. Despite the avalanche of birthday cards and messages sent to Amnesty International by well-wishers, she is still not allowed to receive mail.
The imprisonment of human rights defenders is doubly problematic because it means that the people who stand up to rights abuses against others are themselves in jail. The Istanbul 10 are courageous people who risk their own safety to defend others. They speak out for people’s freedom, they challenge injustices and they fight for everyone in Turkey to be treated fairly. But now they need our help.
Dissent has become dangerous in Turkey. But whilst rounding up human rights defenders was clearly intended to send a message that dissent will not be tolerated the courage of İdil and her colleagues and the support they have garnered has sent a brighter message: that critical voices cannot be silenced.
On Saturday there will be more than 200 #PartyWithIdil events held in towns and cities across the globe. Full-size paper cut-outs of İdil will join in the festivities to highlight her absence. People coming together for her birthday will join together to make a collective birthday wish: the immediate and unconditional release of İdil and the other rights defenders, and an end to the massive post-coup crackdown that is ravaging Turkey.
Footage reproduced by permission of Voice of America.