In 12 years of experience since its foundation in 2005, the Human Rights Joint Platform (IHOP) has organized numerous consultation, training and dialogue meetings with public institutions and rights-based civil society organizations, and has gained a respectable place with the contribution it made to the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights and freedoms in Turkey with its founding and member organizations.
One of the priority areas of work is the dissemination of information on human rights norms and standards, the strengthening of dialogue and cooperation with the public administration for the protection and strengthening of human rights and freedoms as well as the protection and empowerment of human rights defenders. In this framework, it conducts joint activities primarily among its members as well as with other networks and civic organizations that strive to protect and strengthen human rights and freedoms. Effective and reliable reporting and monitoring, strengthening human rights defenders' (HRDs) knowledge and skills in the field of human rights, enhancing HRDs capacity to cope with secondary trauma and protect themselves from all external threats are among the founding objectives of IHOP.
The training workshop, where 10 human rights defenders were detained in the morning of 5 July 2017 in a raid conducted by approximately 30 police officers under the instructions of the Istanbul Adalar Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, was one of the training meetings of IHOP. The decision to organize this meeting had been taken jointly by the members and executives of IHOP member organizations (HRA, Citizens Assembly, Human Rights Agenda Association and the Turkey Branch of Amnesty International) at the consultative meeting held in Antalya on 7 and 8 April 2017. The purpose of this meeting was to understand the threats and risks emanating from the current environment and which directly impact the work of human rights defenders, increase their skills against these risks, protect themselves, their work and those they work with from the threats of the digital and virtual environment and learn methods for coping with the secondary traumas they are exposed to.
Information about the meeting which the written and visual media is trying to criminalize, has been explicitly reported in the Information Note-I we shared with the public on July 11, 2017, after the detention of human rights defenders.
The signed version of our Information Note dated July 11, 2017 has also been delivered to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. In addition to the information note, the documents related to the meeting which were delivered to the prosecutor's office through the lawyers clearly show that the meeting was held with the approval and knowledge of the executives of member organizations forming IHOP.
The news reported by "media" organizations stated that this meeting had not been announced. We should clearly underline that CSOs do not have the obligation of announcing or notifying their work and meetings in advance. Following the amendment made to the associations' legislation in 2005, the former obligation to notify meetings held outside association buildings was abolished.
Therefore, the expression "meeting previously not announced" which was constantly emphasized and presented as a legal obligation in the defamation campaign launched by the visual and written media organs is extremely misleading and has been designed to give credence to another scenario to be created. Unfortunately, it is worrisome and contrary to the principle of lawfulness that the same expression has also been used in the summary of proceedings (fezleke) prepared by the Prosecution Office, which referred our friends to the criminal peace judge by demanding their arrest.
This Information Note, which is a continuation of Information Note-I, has been prepared to put forward the processes and problems regarding the detention and arrest of the HRD members and friends participating in the IHOP workshop, which had been interrupted with the detention of participants upon instructions of the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of Istanbul Adalar pursuant to a complaint lodged by a secret witness the day before the final day of the meeting.
Detention process and problems:
- The meeting premises were raided in the morning hours (10: 00-10: 30) and although the detention process had legally begun, it took until 14:30 for the detention process to be put down in the official records.
- At the beginning of the detention process, the rooms and suitcases of the 10 human rights defenders participating in the meeting were searched, and their computers, phones and many other personal belongings were seized.
- Although legally the images of the telephones and computers should be taken and then they should be returned, this procedure has still not been conducted.
- Requests to inform the relatives and lawyers of the 10 detained HRDs have been rejected due to the prosecutor's decision for a 24-hour communication ban. And we have learned about the detention of our friends merely by coincidence.
- Our friends who were detained at the Büyük Ada police station until midnight on July 5, were later distributed to different police stations on the Anatolian side of Istanbul; they have only been able to communicate with their relatives and friends after 14.30 on July 6, 2017, following the lifting of the communication ban.
- None of the detainees' statements were taken during the 7-day detention period, however house searches were made on the 6th day and the detention periods were arbitrarily extended by 7 more days.
On 17.07.2017 (Monday), the 13th day of the detentions, circa 09.00 a.m., 10 HRDs were taken from İstanbul Security Directorate to İstanbul Çağlayan Court House. Their interrogation by the prosecutor was completed by the evening hours; however, the decision of the prosecutions was not announced till midnight. With a demand for their arrest, the prosecutor asked that our friends be referred to İstanbul Criminal Judge of Peace no 10. The interrogation by the office of the judge started after midnight, and was completed on 18.07.2017 at 06.30 a.m., following which 4 of our friends were released on the condition for judicial control (giving signature to the identified police stations 3 times a week ) while the other 6 were arrested.
Problems detected at the prosecution stage:
- They were taken to prosecution’s interrogation after a long stay of 13-days in remand.
- Following the first detention period of 24 hours, the investigating prosecutor ruled for confidentiality on the investigation file.
- At the prosecution stage, information as to the attributed offence had not been explained to the applicants and their lawyers in a sufficient manner to enable their defense, the grounds had not been indicated, and they were not allowed to peruse the dossier or look into the evidence, if any, as regards the offence attributed to them.
- The investigating prosecutor did not take himself the statements of many of our friends, and referred them to arrest without even seeing them.
Remand process of arrestees
Following the arrest warrant, Günal Kurşun and Veli Acu were sent off to Metris prison while Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudner to that in Maltepe, and İdil Eser and Özlem Dalkıran to Bakırköy Women’s Detention House. Following the admission by the Office of the Criminal Judge of Peace of the investigating judge’s objection to the parole decision, Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün were taken from their houses early in the morning on 22 July 2017 and brought before Peace Judge no 10. After the interrogation finished in midnight, an arrest warrant was issued thus Nalan Erkem was taken to Bakırköy Women’s Closed Prison while İlknur Üstün to that in Sincan. On the other hand, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmuz Özbekli went to the court house themselves on 24 July 2017, and following a long wait, were interrogated then released on parole by the Criminal Judge of Peace.
Lawyers’ appeal to the remand decision was declined on 1 August 2017 by the Office of the Criminal Judge of Peace no 11. The said office ruled for absolute continuation of remand, evaluating the objections made with regard to the offence “aiding an armed terrorist organization” attributed to our friends as not appropriate. Having been first released on parole yet later taken in remand once again upon the objection by the investigating prosecutor, the appeals with respect to the arrests of Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün were, too, rejected on 9 August 2017.
Problems pertaining to remand
- Following the rejections of the objections to the remand decisions, all our arrested friends were taken from the prisons where they had been kept to the campus of Silivri Closed Penitentiary Institution and placed in separate wards of 2-3 people capacity.
- At present, Veli Acu has been in solitary since he had been sent off to Silivri, and for 14 days now, he has been subjected to isolation. In addition to the petition submitted to Silivri Prison Governorate by Günal Kurşun and Veli Acu, executive board members of Human Rights Agenda Association, to stay together, that of Veli Acu to participate in physical exercise, too, have been refused.
- Ali Gharavi is staying with an inmate, who cannot speak a foreign language thus has been deprived of communicating with anyone else other than his lawyers. During his councelling with psychologist, a guard of the prison having poor English provides translation between Ali and the psychologist.
- In spite of the fact that due to an ailment before her arrest, Nalan Erkem has to follow a strict and delicate nutrition program, and be under constant medical checks, this condition of hers has been ignored. Since the food served for the whole prison does not comply with the special diet she is constantly losing weight.
- In spite of the fact that İdil Eser’s health requires a constant monitoring due to cancer suspicions and that the medical reports on her condition had already been submitted to Bakırköy Prison Governorate, no progress could be attained in this respect.
- Letters sent to our friends are not delivered to them. Therefore their communication with the outside world has been limited to the one-hour-visitation/week from their families and lawyers.
Disinformation and Smearing campaign
The first news reports of smearing nature against the HRDs started to appear on the midnight of 5 July 2017.
The content of the reports which started to come out on 6 July 2017, approximately 12 hours after the detention of our friends, was observed to have been aiming at establishing a link with the İHOP HRD training session and another currently-investigated-meeting held in Büyükada during the 15/7 coup attempt.
The “media” outlets, which alleged that the training session was a secret meeting, did not attempt to obtain any information either from İHOP (Human Rights Joint Platform) secretariat or from any member association thereof. They did not attend the press conference that we held and did not report on the Information Note that we issued.
During the course of the days-long heavy smearing campaign, in order to steer the general public, documents and materials seized by the police at the meeting room and the rooms of the participants were exploited by certain media outlets as an incriminating perception instrument against HRDs and their organization even before the prosecution started the interrogation and when a confidentiality ruling had been rendered on the case.
In numerous news reports dignities, honors and prestige of the HRDs were insulted through defaming accusations. Their photos were associated with words like spies, operatives, traitors etc. and they have been placed on the target board.
The interrogation records the Office of the Criminal Judge of Peace, which was approached with a request for arrest on charges of “aiding an armed terrorist organization” following the prosecutor’s investigation on 17 July 2017, could only be put in a report by a [court] expert on 31 July 2017. In spite of the fact that our friends’ answers to the interrogation questions and the evidence presented by their lawyers were included in the said report, the media outlets involved in the smearing and slander did not rely on the report, and continued with their campaigns in breach of the provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code that consider insult and slander an offence and foresees confidentiality of investigation.
Disclaimers have not been responded to.
As human rights organizations, we would like to underline once again that we will not remain silent in the face of all of these and of the smearing campaign faced by our friends and our organizations, and that we will resort to every legal means in order to protect our rights.
Human Rights Joint Platform: Human Rights Association, Human Rights Agenda Association, Amnesty International Turkey, Citizens Assembly