Human rights defender Özlem Dalkıran is an author and a interpreter. She is among the founding members of Amnesty International Turkey Office. She has been involved in numerous campaigns and projects of the Citizen’s Assembly (formerly knowns as the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly) and served different offices since its foundation. Dalkıran was taken into custody and arrested along with 9 others during a workshop organized in Büyükada (Istanbul) in 2017 where she was representing the Citizens’ Assembly. Her arrest and the 3-year long trial process changed her life. What is now referred to as the Büyükada Trial attracted a lot attention in the country and abroad, and numerous campaigns were organized around it. The final hearing of the trial took place on July 3, 2020 where Özlem Dalkıran was sentenced to one year and 13 months in prison for “assisting a terrorist organization without holding a membership”. The court rejected the appeal. Dalkıran lives and continues to advocate for rights abroad.
Interpreter and author, Özlem Dalkıran has been an active member of civil society and a human rights defender for the last 30 years. She is among the founding members of Amnesty International Turkey Office. She served two terms as the chair of the executive board and the press agent of the Amnesty International. She was a member of the Advisory Board to Open Society Foundations Turkey Office. She led a program on “Cinema and Human Rights”. She served as the coordinator of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Refugee Support Program. She served as a member of Hrant Dink Foundation Award Committee for many years. She also worked for “Monitoring Hate Speech in Media” project of the same foundation. Her articles were published on bianet.
The constituents of the Human Rights Joint Platform decided to hold an informative workshop from July 2-7 in Büyükada. Özlem Dalkıran was at Büyükada in July 2017, accompanied by human rights defenders affiliated with different organizations. The theme of the workshop was “protection of data and means of coping with stress”. The objective was to gain knowledge around protection of archives, digitizing and storing documents, protecting communication and websites from cyberattacks, and coping with stress. Since addressing stress was among the objectives of the workshop, the location of Büyükada was deemed fitting.
The police forces received orders from Adalar Prosecutor’s Office and raided the workshop on July 5, 2017. They took 10 rights defenders into custody and Özlem Dalkıran was among them. They were not allowed to contact their families or lawyers for hours. The legal detention period was extended from seven days to fourteen days, and they were brought before a prosecutor on July 17, 2017. The prosecution requested that they were detained for the following accusations: “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without holding a membership” and “being member of an armed terrorist organization”.
On July 18, 2017, Özlem Dalkıran, along with İdil Eser (Amnesty International – Turkey Office Director), Günal Kurşun (Human Rights Agenda Association), Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association), Ali Garawi (Citizen of Sweden- human rights trainer) and Peter Steudtner (Citizen of Germany– human rights trainer) were detained. And the Büyükada Trial started.
The indictment was drafted after 3 months, on October 4, 2017, and the number of rights defenders prosecuted increased to 11. The first hearing was held at the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court on October 25, 2017. The press conference held right before the hearing focused on how the civil society was being criminalized: “The workshop on digital security and dealing with trauma, a commonplace workshop conducted globally, was organized in full transparency and intended to contribute to wellbeing of rights defenders and increase their knowledge in these areas. The aim of this trial against the participants of the workshop and the workshop itself is to criminalize them.”
In her defense statement at the first hearing, Özlem Dalkıran stated that she could not understand the reasoning of the indictment that resulted in depriving her of freedom for three months and the fact that a workshop, which aimed at increasing the knowledge of rights defenders, could be interpreted as “assisting a terrorist organization”. She rejected the accusations against her and reminded that her work in the past 30 years has always focused on rights, justice and peace.
Dalkıran was released after spending 113 days behind bars following the first hearing. The prosecutor expressed their opinion on November 27, 2019 and requested that Dalkıran is sentenced on the grounds that she “assisted a terrorist organization without holding a membership”.
The final hearing took place on July 3, 2020 at the 35th High Criminal Court. Özlem Dalkıran was sentenced to 1 year and 13 months in prison for “assisting a terrorist organization”.
The 3rd Criminal Division of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeal on 26 November 2020, provided that the case can be seen at the Court of Cassation.
The application made to the Constitutional Court (AYM) regarding Dalkıran’s detention was concluded on 23 March 2021. The court unanimously decided that the right to freedom and security of the person guaranteed in Article 19 of the Constitution was violated, and ruled that Dalkıran was paid 40 thousand lira in non-pecuniary damages. In the Constitutional Court decision, it was stated that there was no evidence that the meeting in Büyükada was confidential, and that even if the meeting was confidential, it would not constitute a crime on its own.
Özlem Dalkıran currently lives and continues her activism abroad away from her family and friends.