- Convictions of four human rights defenders, including Taner Kılıç, Amnesty Türkiye’s Honorary Chair, and Idil Eser, Amnesty Türkiye’s ex-director, quashed
The decision by a Turkish court to overturn baseless convictions of Amnesty International Türkiye’s Honorary Chair and three other human rights defenders is a huge relief, yet also highlights the politically motivated nature of the prosecutions, Amnesty International said today.
The ruling on the convictions of Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun — four of 11 human rights defenders in the Büyükada case, who were convicted in July 2020 — comes exactly six years after Taner’s initial arrest which was followed the by the arrests of the others just weeks later.
“Today’s ruling brings to an end a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. While we are hugely relieved that the convictions have finally been quashed, the fact that they were brought in the first place remains unconscionable,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“For six years, we have watched the wheels of injustice grind as the baseless claims levelled against these four brave human rights defenders have been accepted as fact by successive courts. Today’s ruling revealed the true purpose of such politically motivated prosecutions: using the courts as a weapon to silence critical voices.”
Taner Kılıç, a refugee rights lawyer and Honorary Chair of Amnesty’s Türkiye section, was arrested in June 2017 and detained in prison for more than 14 months. Despite a complete lack of evidence, in July 2020, he was convicted of “membership of a terrorist organization” and sentenced to six years and three months in prison. İdil, Özlem and Günal were all sentenced to 25 months for “assisting a terrorist organization” and spent more than three months in behind bars in 2017.
Over the course of 12 court hearings, every allegation levelled against the four human rights activists was repeatedly and comprehensively proven baseless, including in the state’s own police report.
Today’s ruling follows the 2022 decision by the European Court of Human Rights’ to reject Türkiye’s referral for review by the Court’s Grand Chamber of their decision that Taner Kılıç’s detention in 2017-18 violated his human rights.
In May 2022, the European Court reaffirmed that the authorities in Türkiye did not have “any reasonable suspicion that Taner Kılıç had committed an offence”. It also found that his incarceration on the second set of terrorism-related charges was “directly linked to his activity as a human rights defender”.
“For Taner, Idil, Özlem and Günal, their ordeal may be over, but across Türkiye many human rights defenders are languishing in jail, living in fear of arrest or facing similar unfounded prosecutions,” said Agnès Callamard.
“We will take strength from today’s victory. We will also continue to fight against the relentless curtailing of human rights in Türkiye, and on behalf of those who refuse to be silenced by the government’s threats.”
Taner Kılıç and Özlem Dalkıran are both founding members of Amnesty International Türkiye. Over the last 20 years, they have played a crucial role in defending human rights as part of the organization and the wider human rights community in Türkiye.
At the time of her arrest in July 2017, Idil Eser was the Director of Amnesty International Türkiye. Günal Kurşun, a lawyer, international criminal law expert and long-standing member of Amnesty International Türkiye, is a prominent human rights defender in the country.
Taner Kılıç was alleged to have downloaded and used the ByLock messaging app, which the prosecution claimed was used for communication by the Gülen movement, a group blamed for organizing an attempted coup in 2016.
Two forensic analyses of Kılıç’s phone commissioned by Amnesty, however, found no trace of ByLock having ever been installed. In June 2018, any legitimacy of the prosecutor’s case was stripped away after the police submitted a report, which also found no evidence of ByLock on Kılıç’s phone. Nevertheless, merely downloading or using an app would not be sufficient evidence of alleged offences, as concluded in a recent ECtHR judgment concerning another applicant.
İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun were among 10 people, dubbed the Istanbul 10, who were detained by police as they attended a workshop on well-being and digital security on 5 July 2017.
On 4 October 2017, an Istanbul prosecutor filed an indictment against the Istanbul 10 and Taner Kılıç, who was allegedly aware of preparations for the workshop and in contact with two defendants.
At his first trial hearing on 26 October, the judge accepted the prosecutor’s application to merge Kılıç’s case with that of the other ten, even though the accusations levelled against him had nothing to do with the workshop and the two cases were in no way connected.
The acquittal of these four human rights defenders remains subject to an appeal by the prosecutor.