Nurcan Kaya is a human rights defender, a lawyer, and a columnist. She primarily identifies as a rights defender. Three attempts were made to sue Kaya for three different offenses because of the same social media post from 2014. Finally, a lawsuit was filed for “terrorist propaganda” and the prosecutor’s office demanded that she be punished in accordance with Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK). The judgment hearing was held on September 27, 2021, where she was convicted and sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison.
Nurcan Kaya was born in Diyarbakır in 1977. She completed her legal education and internship here. While she was a trainee lawyer, she decided that she could advocate for rights through law and did her internship with Fethi Gümüş, one of the former presidents of Diyarbakır Bar Association. She also became a member of the Human Rights Association (İHD) where she volunteered as a translator. She took part in various commissions of Diyarbakir Bar Association. However, she continued her career in non-governmental organizations.
The watershed moment that led her to become a human rights defender was the burning of Lice in 1993. Her elder sister was in Lice at the time of the military operation. She was shaken by this event that she witnessed as the child of a non-political, tradesman family who grew up in the city center.
She received her master’s degree in International Human Rights Law in England. She worked as an expert in non-governmental organizations in London and then at the Istanbul Bilgi University Human Rights Center. She returned to London and started to work at Minority Rights Group International. Here, she carried out studies on the implementation of the EU’s non-discrimination legislation in member states. She took part in projects related to Turkey and Cyprus over the prohibition of discrimination and minority rights and wrote reports.
In 2004, threats and pressures against the authors of the Minority Rights and Cultural Rights Report, Prof. Dr. İbrahim Kaboğlu and Prof. Dr Baskin Oran, and others working on minority rights issues, intensified. Over the course of several years, Minority Rights Group also prepared a report on the same subject. Yaşar Büyükanıt, then Chief of Staff, accused the London-based NGO of creating a minority in, and therefore, dividing Turkey, based on this yet unpublished report at a press conference. After this statement, Kaya started to receive phone calls from Turkey due to her work on minorities. These calls lasted until the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer lawsuits.
Kaya returned to Turkey in 2009. She continued to work for international civil society. In 2018, she returned to Diyarbakır and started working as a lawyer. She is also a columnist and a consultant to civil society. She sees advocacy as a tool for activism and practices it as such since she can closely follow the judicial processes aimed at civil society and rights defenders and announce them to the public through her writing.
Nurcan Kaya was detained at Istanbul Airport on October 27, 2019, while she was about to leave for Tunisia. She was released the same day after she testified at the Çağlayan Courthouse. She was asked about a tweet she shared in 2014 about an operation in Syria, and a travel ban was imposed during her interrogation. The ban was lifted at the end of January 2020.
Due to this tweet, an investigation was launched due to the allegation that Kaya “provoked the public to hatred, hostility or degrading” (Turkish Penal Code [TCK] Article 216), which resulted in a non-prosecution decision. Then, another investigation was launched based on the allegation that Kaya “denigrated Turkishness, the Republic, and the Institutions and Organs of the State” (TCK Article 301) but the Ministry of Justice would not allow for the pursuit of this investigation. Again, a few other tweets were added into her case alongside the abovementioned tweet, and an investigation was launched against Kaya for making propaganda of an organization, which turned into a lawsuit on October 5, 2020.
The tweet mentioned in the prosecution’s opinion is: “Not only the Kurds but all people who live there are resisting in Kobane. Democrat Arabs are also resisting; and some of them were martyred.” This statement is a tweet written in quotation marks, which means it is a quote. This quote is from a speaker, who joined via video conference to a public panel on Kobane that Kaya attended in Istanbul in October 2014 as the Peace Process was going on. Nurcan Kaya considers this process as a judicial harassment against her identity and writings.
The judgment hearing was held on September 27, 2021, at the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court, where she was convicted and sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison. The court deferred the sentence on condition that she is on probation for five years. Kaya is expected to appeal to the Higher Court and then to the Constitutional Court.