Monday

19th Feb 2018

Opinion

Struggling to breathe under the weight of the Turkish crackdown

  • Protests calling for the release of Taner Kilic outside the EU's External Action Service HQ in Brussels (Photo: Amnesty International)

"I have met many thousands of dedicated people through my work, but none as remarkable and committed as Taner Kilic," says Michel Gaude the former head of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Turkey. And yet today, Taner Kilic, is on trial on trumped up terrorism charges.

If found guilty he faces up to 15 years behind bars.

A dedicated human rights lawyer and the chair of Amnesty International Turkey, I first met Taner in 2004. He was then, just as he is now, serious and determined but also lighthearted with a keen sense of humour.

I liked him a lot but more than that I was deeply impressed by Taner's tireless work to help refugees and asylum seekers who had very few people to turn to. He would fight for those who were detained or faced expulsion.

He would negotiate with the local authorities and fight for them in court. He would organise human rights training for the local police and state officials. And he would mobilise and motivate local people to help improve the lives of these refugees. He was not only an effective advocate but also a passionate campaigner for refugees; a fantastic combination for a human rights defender.

With the post-coup crackdown becoming ever more entrenched, there is a need for people like Taner now more than ever.

But as Taner's situation demonstrates, in Turkey speaking out to defend other people's freedoms can end up costing you your own.

ByLock App

Taner was arrested almost eight months ago and charged with "membership of a terrorist organisation." The central accusation against him is the allegation that he downloaded ByLock, the messaging application the state says was used by the Gulen movement, who the Turkish authorities blame for the 2016 coup attempt.

After eight months, the state has not been able to provide any credible evidence to substantiate this claim, or indeed any legitimate claim of actual criminal wrongdoing. On the contrary, two independent forensic reports have found that there is no trace of ByLock ever being on his phone.

The ludicrous allegations against Taner aren't unique. In fact there is a pattern of targeting human rights defenders.

Businessman, philanthropist and civil society leader Osman Kavala was detained in October. Nothing has been presented to substantiate the lurid allegation, splashed across government newspapers, that he participated in the coup attempt.

As a result of his civil society activism, teacher and president of the Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association, Raci Bilici, stands accused of membership of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party or (PKK) which the government classifies as a terrorist organisation.

The picture is clear. If you are effective, if you are a thorn in the side of those bothered by human rights activism, then you will pay the price. Targeting prominent individuals serves to scare, and to silence the communities they represent.

Turkish mistake

Last month in a dramatic development, Turkish authorities admitted that they were wrong, and that thousands of people have been wrongly accused of downloading ByLock.

They published lists containing the numbers of 11,480 mobile phone users exonerating them of the alleged wrongdoing, which in turn led to mass prisoner releases. Unfortunately, Taner is not yet among those listed for release. The injustice of Taner's detention is clear and documented. And yet his trial continues.

Nevertheless, the fact that the authorities have acknowledged that thousands of people were wrongly jailed due to incorrect information about ByLock being on their phones, has given hope to those fighting for Taner's release.

And there are many of us. Indeed over the last eight months, more than a million people from 194 countries and territories have signed Amnesty International actions calling for Taner's release and for the dropping of the charges against the ten other human rights defenders who he are being tried alongside.

Included in this list are scores of politicians as well as world renowned figures who work in the arts. They know that if Turkey's once vibrant civil society is to be able to breathe again, then the likes of Taner must be freed.

"I feel like I'm living in a bad dream and I'm waiting to wake up," Gulnihal Kilic, Taner's daughter told me at the last hearing. Seeing her father in his prison cell via video link on Wednesday (31 January) will be hard for Gulnihal.

But she is also immensely proud of him and so am I. I'm proud of the work he has done to transform the lives of so many. I'm proud of his determination to stand up for what is right. But most of all, I'm proud to call him a friend.

Andrew Gardner is Amnesty International's senior Turkey researcher

Turkey poised for first EU budget cut

"Turkey is going in a direction that is the very opposite of EU standards," Siegfried Muresan, the MEP spearheading the cuts, has said.

Erdogan's diplomats have become 'Gulenist-busters'

Under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's diplomats have been turned into agents hunting supposed followers of his opponent Fethullah Gulen, and are now suspected of harassing journalists even in Belgium.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAA year ago UNESDA members pledged to reduce added sugars in soft drinks by 10%
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  3. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  4. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  5. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  7. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  8. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  9. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  10. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  12. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  2. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  5. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  7. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  8. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  9. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  10. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  11. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects