Turkey: The travesty of justice continues for Taner and the Istanbul 10

Last Wednesday, the trial of 11 human rights defenders including Taner Kılıç, and İdil Eser the chair and director of Amnesty International Turkey, resumed in Istanbul.

The 11 face outlandish “terrorism” charges in what can only be described as a politically motivated prosecution aimed at silencing critical voices within the country. If convicted they could face jail terms of up to 15 years.

I was among the international delegation of observers at the trial.

The trial of 11 human rights defenders including Taner Kılıç, and İdil Eser resumed last Wednesday in the Çağlayan Justice Palace, the largest courthouse in Europe
Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India

We began the day in the morning, when a group of us organised a protest outside the Çağlayan Justice Palace (as it is called), a vast, modern circular building which is the largest courthouse in Europe. The protest was well attended by different civil society groups and individuals despite the fact that it was bitterly cold and windy. The foreign observers included the Amnesty chairs of Brazil and the UK, and also diplomats from the European Union and the United States.

A statement was read out in support of the human rights defenders. Taner’s 19-year-old daughter Gulnihal was with us and we were in good spirits.

The court could hold about 120 people in it besides the lawyers and other officials and every seat was taken and there were people outside who could not get in.

The court had three judges, two men and a woman, in black robes with an upturned red collar. They sat on a raised platform, as judges do in India. Interestingly, the prosecutor also sat with them, to one side. This man I heard speaking only once briefly during the entire hearing, which went on for more than six hours. 

Most of this time was taken up by the defence of Taner. The defence had an expert witness who spoke at length on the issue of the app Bylock. Taner’s phone had been returned to him by the police after they had made a copy of the software on it. The expert concluded that there was no chance that he had ever downloaded Bylock. In his witness statement Taner said he had not even heard of the Bylock app until after the coup attempt. Despite this, during the first hearing, he had not been granted bail. After that hearing, my colleague John Dalhuisen said that “it took the prosecutor more than three months to come up with nothing. It should not take the judge more than half an hour to dismiss the case against them.”

The case was not dismissed, and continued into the second hearing that I am describing. The senior judge, who sat in the centre, had a few questions of the expert, and in all of the time it seemed to us that the day had decisively gone in favour of the truth. The trial was conducted entirely in Turkish, with the exception of a very few English words (like “IP address” and of course “ByLock”, but it was not difficult to gauge the impact the expert’s testimony had made). Taner made a direct and unemotional plea to be released on bail, given that there was no evidence against him. The prosecutor spoke the one line I heard him speak the entire day. He said the state opposed bail.

At the end of the six or so hours, the courtroom was emptied of all but the lawyers and the accused. We were asked to wait outside. We were informed later that bail had been denied, and the news hit all of us but it devastated young Gulnihal.

I have been a court reporter for many years and have not seen such blatant suppression of those who are fighting for human rights
Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India

I have been a court reporter for many years and have not seen such blatant suppression of those who are fighting for human rights, suppression of freedom of expression, and linking it to terrorism. I wish the Indian government had sent a representative also to the trial and I hope it does it for the next hearing. This is an issue which we must take up with Turkey. 

"I am so sad because Taner wasn't released today and he will have to endure prison for at least another two months," said Idil Eser after the trial. "But we will continue to fight relentlessly for his release relentlessly."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 31 January 2018.

This article was first published here by Outlook India.