Günal Kurşun is an Executive Board Member of the Human Rights Agenda Association.
In July 2017, Günal Kurşun was taken into custody after police raided a workshop he was attending at the Büyükada Askot Hotel, together with other human rights organisation representatives. He was detained for 113 days and charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation”, “aiding armed terrorist organisations” and “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organisation without being a member”.He is one of the defendants in the Büyükada case and was released pending trial. He faces five to ten years in prison.
He was one of the people dismissed from their positions at Adana Çukurova University’s Faculty of Law following the emergency decree issued in October 2016. Apart from the Büyükada case, also known as the ‘Istanbul 10’, there are two other cases against Kurşun. They are related to him being a member of the trade union for education Eğitim-Sen and making a press statement with them, and for writing articles for the Zaman newspaper, which was later shut down. As a result of the emergency decree, his passport was cancelled and his license to practice as a lawyer was revoked.
The cases against Kurşun are still ongoing.
Along with Günal Kurşun, the others in the Büyükada case are standing trial as well; İdil Eser (Director of Amnesty International Turkey), Nalan Erkem (Helsinki Citizens Assembly), İlknur Üstün (Women’s Coalition), Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association), Nejat Taştan (Association for Monitoring Equal Rights), Özlem Dalkıran (Helsinki Citizens Assembly), Şeyhmus Özbekli (Hak İnisayatifi), Taner Kılıç (Chair of Amnesty International Turkey), Peter Frank Steudtner (trainer)and Ali Garawi (trainer).
At the hearing on 27th of November, the prosecutor announced his opinion on the merits and asked Günal Kurşun to be punished for “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member”, meaning up to 15 years in prison.
At the 11th hearing on 19 February 2020, the defendants’ arguments on the merits were heard. “We are respectable people, we all work to serve humanity without waiting for interest. In this case, our dignity was wanted to be destroyed,” said Günal Kurşun. Recalling the torment and discrimination they experienced during their 13 days in custody, he said that the necessary investigations were not made during the proceedings. “The name of this case known to the public is Büyükada, but apart from the first hearing, it was not talked about the Büyükada meeting. In the last 10-15 years, it has turned into a case where all the work we have done is pretended, and human rights defenders and human rights are tried” he said.
Lawyer defenses will be heard at the hearing on April 3, 2020.
‘THE ISTANBUL 10’ / THE BÜYÜKADA CASE
On 5 July 2017, police raided a workshop on coping with trauma and digital safety, held on Büyükada, an island off the coast of Istanbul. Under the instructions of the Istanbul Islands’ Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, ten human rights defenders were taken into custody
The ‘Istanbul 10’, as they were later called, were all human rights defenders; eight of them were Turkish citizens, one was German and the other was Swedish-Iranian. No one, including their relatives and lawyers were informed about the detention process until thirty hours after it happened. The public learned about the detentions only by chance on the evening of 5 July.
After twelve days of detention, the workshop participants were interrogated by the prosecutor on 17 July 2017. The prosecutor demanded their arrest on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of the terrorist organisation without being a member” and “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation.”
What happened to the rights defenders?
The day after the interrogation, the following six were arrested and sent to pre-trial detention: İdil Eser (Director of Amnesty International Turkey), Özlem Dalkıran (Helsinki Citizens Assembly), Günal Kurşun (Human Rights Agenda Association), Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association), Ali Garawi (Swedish human rights trainer) and Peter Steudtner (German human rights trainer).
The remaining four were released on probation with an international travel ban: Nalan Erkem (Helsinki Citizens Assembly), Şeyhmus Özbekli (Rights Initiative) İlknur Üstün (Women’s Coalition) and Nejat Taştan (Association for Monitoring Equal Rights).
An arrest warrant against four people was issued on 21 July 2017, following the prosecutor’s objection to the initial ruling on their release. Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün were taken into custody a second time, from their homes, and later arrested. Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli were released again, with an international travel ban and having to report to the police twice a week during a probation period.
After three months, on 4 October 2017, an indictment was issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, charging all the rights defenders with “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Turkish Criminal Code) and “aiding armed terrorist organisations” (Article 220/6 of the Turkish Criminal Code).
The Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kılıç, had been in pre-trial detention for over a year, charged with “being a member to a terrorist organisation”. Though initially a separate case held before the İzmir 16th Criminal Court, Kılıç, was added as a suspect under the same indictment as the ‘Istanbul 10’.
Protests against the detentions
There were several actions from civil society to protest against the detentions. One of them concerned a group of non-profit organisations, who issued a joint press release before the first hearing of the Büyükada case at the Istanbul 35th Criminal Court on 25 October 2017, stating that “The training on coping with trauma and digital security has nothing confidential, has been organised in an open and transparent manner and basically aims to enhance the information and wellbeing of rights defenders. It is about a normal issue, organised everywhere in the world, yet the lawsuit aims to forcibly criminalise the training as well as its participants. “
With the exception of Taner Kılıç, all the rights defenders were released after the first hearing. They had been detained for a total of 113 days.
At the third hearing, held on 31 January 2018, the court ruled for Taner Kılıç’s release. He was however arrested again on 1 February 2018, following the prosecutor’s objection to the decision. At the fourth hearing, held on 21 June 2018, the court ruled for the detention of Kılıç to be continued.
After fourteen months of detention, Taner Kılıç was released on 15 August 2018, following an objection to his detention from his lawyer
At the 11th hearing on 19 February 2020, the defendants’ arguments on the merits were heard. Lawyer defenses will be heard at the hearing on April 3, 2020.