Hasan Ceyhan, always on the forefront for peace, is a risk-taking and a determined advocate for safeguarding the right to live for many civilians. Having made a public conversation possible about the mass graves in Bitlis, Ceyhan was arrested while he was the president of the Bitlis branch of Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği, ‘İHD’) as well as the Bitlis representative for Amnesty International. Ceylan, who suffers from cardiovascular disease and is on daily medication, is currently in prison for ‘being a member of a terrorist organization’.
Prior to the court hearing scheduled for April 26, 2018, Human Rights Association requested Hasan Ceylan to be released based on his potentially fatal cardiovascular condition and his case proceedings, which were back then at Court of Cassation stage, to take place while he is out. However, despite even the COVID-19 measures, he has been kept in Rize’s Kalkandere Penitentiary.
Ceylan has served as the City Representative and Branch President for the Human Rights Association in Bitlis in his fight for human rights. He ignited a public conversation around the three mass graves found in Mutki’s District Dumpsite back in 2011.
The mass graves, holding bodies of those killed in 1992, 1996, and 2003, were discovered thanks to statements given by a digger operator contracted with the Municipality of Mutki back in the 90’s. The families of the deceased had applied to İHD’s Bitlis Field Office for the bodies of their loved ones to be found. In 2011, Ceylan played an important role once again in rescuing the three employees of a phone carrier, when they were kidnapped by PKK during their trip to the Yelkenli Village in Anadere upon a request to fix a technical issue in the area.
Some of these actions were used against him as evidence in his indictment. Ceylan was detained on March 19, 2017 and later arrested for ‘being a member of a terrorist organization’ on March 29 of the same year. He faced trial for his actions, most of which were done under the official umbrella of İHD’s rules and procedures; and received a sentence of 7 years and 6 months based on Turkish Criminal Code Articles 314/2, 53, 58/9, 63 as well Article 5/1 of the Law 3713. Among the evidence shown against him were statements given by arrested members of PKK and anonymous witnesses, funerals he had attended, meetings and events he attended representing İHD, and newspapers found in his home. One of the witnesses later confessed that his original statement was given under compulsion and it did not reflect the reality. Another witness affirmed during trial that the signature under his statement was not his.
Hasan Ceylan repetitively explained in his defense that the actions that were shown as evidence against him were mostly part of his job as an İHD executive and an advocate for human rights. When asked about his role as mediator in getting PKK to release the hostages, he expressed that he mediated as a neutral advocate for human rights because he knew he was trusted, and it was his duty as an advocate for human rights. As for the funerals he attended, he reminded the court that there is no law for the dead and his going to the funerals of the PKK members was a sociological requirement of the region. Ceylan’s file is currently at Court of Cassation following the rejection of his request of appeal and Court of Appeal’s decision dated September 26, 2019, that Ceylan remains under detention for the rest of the legal process.