MESOP FLASH : Turkey – Sentencing of four Human Rights Association (İHD) members

On 24 January 2013, four human rights defenders who are lawyers and members of the Ankara Branch of İnsan Haklari Derneği (Human Rights Association – İHD) were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 to 7 years and 6 months, on charges of being a member of “an armed, illegal organisation”. İHD is a non-governmental human rights organization founded in 1986, with approximately 34 local branches around the country.

It engages in a variety of human rights activities including defending prisoner rights, campaigning against torture, promoting a peaceful, non-violent and democratic solution to the Kurdish question, promoting economic and social justice and human rights education and the production of a number of reports and publications.

On 24 January 2013, Ankara Heavy Penal Court No. 11 sentenced former Chairperson of İHD Ms Filiz Kalaycı to 7 years and 6 months of imprisonment, and İHD General Executive Board member Mr Hasan Anlar, İHD Chairperson Lawyer Mr Halil İbrahim Vargün and İHD member Mr Murat Vargün to 6 years and 3 months of imprisonment each.

İHD has been the subject of a systematic campaign of judicial harassment and criminalisation, as a direct result of their human rights work in Turkey, in particular as regards Kurdish issues. Charges targeted at İHD members have predominantly included alleged membership of an “illegal organisation”, referring to (Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan (Union of Kurdistan Communities – KCK). Two more İHD members were convicted on 11 December 2012. İHD Executive Board Member Mr Tugay Bek and lawyer Ms Sevil Aracı Bek were sentenced to 3 years, 1 month and 13 days of imprisonment each, on charges of “committing offence on behalf of an organisation although he is not a member” under Article 220/6 of the Penal Code. The charges were reportedly in connection with Tugay Bek and Sevil Aracı Bek’s participation in various election activities before the general elections held on 12 June 2011. These convictions took place despite the prosecutor requesting their acquittal.

An alarmingly high number of human rights defenders face judicial harassment in Turkey. On the same day the sentence against IHD members was read, human rights defender, writer and sociologist Ms Pinar Selek was sentenced to life imprisonment, on charges of allegedly causing a bomb to explode in the Egyptian bazaar in Istanbul in 1998 and of membership in a terrorist organisation. On 22 January 2013, Front Line Defenders also issued an urgent appeal   on the arrest of several human rights lawyers, members of the Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (Progressive Lawyers’ Association – ÇHD) on 18 and 21 January 2013.

Front Line Defenders condemns the conviction and sentencing of the aforementioned individuals, and believes this to be solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful human rights work and the provision of legal assistance. We reiterate our deepest concern about the abuse of terrorism-related legislation against human rights defenders and the systematic harassment of independent voices in Turkey.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Turkey to:

Reverse the sentencing and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Filiz Kalaycı, Hasan Anlar, Halil İbrahgim Vargün, Murat Vargün, Tugay Bek and Sevil Aracı Bek, as Front Line Defenders believes that they have been sentenced solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work;

Cease the ongoing campaign of judicial harassment and criminalisation of İHD members;

Carry out an independent review of the use of terrorism-related legislation and ensure its use conforms strictly to international human rights standards;

Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.