All eyes on Istanbul as human rights activists face up to 15 years in jail in Turkey sham trial

A verdict is expected tomorrow in the cases of 11 human rights defenders, including the former leadership and several members of Amnesty Turkey, who have spent more than two-and-a-half years fighting trumped-up charges and could face up to 15 years behind bars if found guilty. 

Ahead of the hearing, which resumes tomorrow in Istanbul, Amnesty International said only acquittal of all could deliver justice for the 11 activists arrested in the summer of 2017 on baseless terrorism charges. Amnesty Turkey’s former Chair, Taner Kılıç, former Director, Idil Eser, and several other members of Amnesty Turkey are among the human rights defenders on trial.

“The plight of these activists shows that Turkey has become a country where defending other people’s freedoms can cost you your own, and where standing up for human rights is being criminalized. This verdict is an acid test for Turkey’s justice system – we demand anend this prolonged saga of injustice now,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“From the moment they were arrested, it was clear this was a politically motivated prosecution aimed at silencing independent civil society within Turkey. After months in jail and years before the courts, and with no credible evidence presented to substantiate the charges made against them, any verdict other than a full acquittal for all 11 activists would be an outrage.”

Over the course of ten hearings, the ‘terrorism’ allegations made against all 11 defendants have been repeatedly and categorically disproven, including by the state’s own evidence. The prosecution’s attempt to present legitimate human rights activities as unlawful acts has comprehensively failed. The verdict must reflect that reality.

Since 2017, more than two million people from around the world have joined the call for justice for the 11, including scores of renowned figures from the arts world, among them Ben Stiller, Whoopi Goldberg, Edward Snowden, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, Catherine Deneuve and Angélique Kidjo.

Writing in an open letter in 2017 when the 11 were still behind bars, dozens of high-profile figures stated: “When human rights defenders are silenced, all our rights are put at risk. They are the ones that stand up for us. Now we must stand up for them.”

After more than 14 months in prison, Taner Kılıç was released on bail in August 2018. Eight of the others spent almost four months each behind bars before they were released in October 2017. But thousands of others caught up in Turkey’s deep and far reaching crackdown on dissent remain in jail.

The targeting of human rights defenders has escalated during the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt. The post-coup crackdown by the government has seen an ongoing assault on civil society which has resulted in the closing of more than 1,300 NGOs and 180 media organizations, and the arbitrary dismissal of almost 130,000 public service workers.

“The significance of the verdict will reach far beyond this courtroom. The acquittal of these 11 human rights defenders should herald the beginning of the end of the crackdown on civil society and a restoration of respect for human rights in Turkey,” said Marie Struthers.

“The eyes of the world will be on the courtroom. Any verdict other that acquittal will be a chilling reminder that truth and justice have become strangers in Turkey.”

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