Öztürk Türkdoğan is a lawyer and the Co-Chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD). His work has made him a prominent figure in the human rights movement in Turkey. He was the Mediterranean regional representative of the “Wise People Delegation,” which was formed in 2013 to negotiate a resolution of the Kurdish issue. He documented human rights violations once the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish military re-erupted in 2015. In this documentation, he mainly focused on cities in southeast Turkey that had 24-hour curfews. Türkdoğan has been and continues to be subject of various investigations for the work he conducts on behalf of the İHD.
In April 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to rights defenders who prepared reports on cities that had a curfew, stating that: “Those, who published these reports should be scrutinized.” After this statement, investigations against the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), MAZLUMDER, the Trade Union of Employees in Public Health and Social Services (SES), and İHD started. Türkdoğan and other executives of these rights organisations were accused of insulting the State and its institutions. Türkdoğan’s investigation on this matter is still ongoing.
Türkdoğan is also among the 44 İHD members and executives who are being investigated on grounds of organising visits and meetings for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and for peace efforts to solve the Kurdish issue. The İHD staff is also subject of an investigation on grounds of “denigrating the State and its institutions” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” in its reports and statements. Türkdoğan gave his statement to the prosecutor on 15 March 2018 and submitted a detailed written statement in April 2018.
On 9 November 2017, Türkdoğan was detained together with İHD board members Sevim Salihoğlu and Derya Uysal, and İHD employee Besra Varlı. This day marked the 365th day of a sit-in led by Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça—teachers who were dismissed by an executive decree during the state of emergency that started in July 2016. The teachers protested their dismissal and demanded to be re-employed. Eventually, they were banned from protesting around the Human Rights Monument in Ankara. Türkdoğan and two colleagues were taken into custody for announcing the report they prepared on this ban. Each was fined 277 Turkish Liras. Türkoğlu and others lodged individual applications to the Constitutional Court on this matter.
Throughout his career, Türkdoğan has intervened in many court cases. This includes a court case against the military junta of the 1980 coup and many other court cases concerning rights violations in Turkey. He has faced media backlash for supporting a peaceful solution of the Kurdish issue.
Known for its support of the government, the Yeni Şafak daily newspaper targeted Türkdoğan on 7 December 2018 for participating in the “Kurdish Conference” held at the European Parliament. İHD has launched a legal battle against the newspaper in which it requested blocking access to the content of the article and compensation for the damage the article has caused.
An administrative, financial and operational audit was carried out in February 2020 by the Civil Inspectorate at the İHD headquarters. A criminal complaint was filed with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office alleging that the association’s statements regarding the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in 2017 and 2018 were in violation of Article 301 of the TCK, and that there were criminal statements about Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in the article published on the association’s website on 29 June 2018. As a result of the investigation initiated, two separate lawsuits were filed against Öztürk Türkdoğan.
The first of these cases, related to the April 24 Armenian Genocide statements; was accepted by the Ankara 24th Criminal Court of First Instance. In Ankara 60th Criminal Court of First Instance, again on the President Öztürk Türkdoğan due to the article titled “Mandatory Statement Regarding the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu” published on the website of the İHD on 29 June 2018, Article 125/3 of the TCK. A lawsuit was filed demanding that he be punished for the crime of defamation regulated in the article. The first hearing of the file will be held on February 18, 2022.
Turkey’s government has conducted an military operation to Garê in Northern Iraq on February 13, 2021, which resulted in the death of 13 people taken hostage by the PKK.
The Human Rights Association held a press conference on the killing of 13 people, and Öztürk Türkdoğan stated that government officials did not meet with them, even though they had offered to take the hostages back from PKK . He emphasized that the PKK is responsible for the lives of the people they detained and the Turkish General Staff is responsible for the consequences of the risky operation.
Upon this statement, Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu targeted the Human Rights Association (İHD) in the information he gave to the Turkish Grand National Assembly on February 16, 2021. Soylu said, “Since 1984, the terrorist organization has committed 6,21 civilian massacres. Did that dreadful association called IHD said a word about one of them, why do you keep fallowing it?”.
Following the incident, on the morning of March 19, 2021, Öztürk Türkdoğan was detained and was released on the same day in the evening on the condition of judicial control. Türkdoğan was charged with “membership of an illegal armed organization” in custody. He was asked about his previous speeches, IHD statements, and some phone calls.
The statements made by Öztürk Türkdoğan as the President of the İHD were evaluated within the scope of the crime of membership in an armed organization, and an indictment was prepared by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and this indictment was accepted by the Ankara 19th High Criminal Court.
The first hearing of the case was on February 22, 2022. The court decided to continue the judicial control measure against Türkdoğan. He was acquitted in the second hearing on April 19, 2022.
The first hearing of the case brought against Türkdoğan on the allegation that there are criminal statements against the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu in the statement published on the İHD's website on 29 June 2018 was held at the Ankara 60th Criminal Court of First Instance on 11 May 2022. In his defence, Türkdoğan reminded that Minister Soylu had called the İHD "an association to the death". He pointed out that it was Soylu who should be prosecuted in this case, not him, by saying, "An Interior Minister blames us for the failure of the Gare operation." The judge asked Türkdoğan, who requested his acquittal, whether he wanted the adjournment of the announcement of the verdict (HAGB), but Türkdoğan did not accept this.
The next hearing was held on 27 June 2022. Türkdoğan was acquitted because the elements of the crime charged against him were not formed.
Türkdoğan is a rights defender at risk in Turkey. He is still subject to investigations and is facing the risk of imprisonment in his trials.