Taner Kılıç is a lawyer, a human rights defender, and the honorary president of Amnesty International Turkey. As a prominent figure in the human rights movement in Turkey, he works on refugee rights and is one of the first legal experts who has drawn attention to the conditions of refugees in Turkey. Kılıç is also a founder and the former chair of the Association for Solidarity with Refugees (Mülteci-Der). Kılıç was released from jail after spending 15 months in pre-trial detention. He now stands trial in the Büyükada Case.
On 9 June 2017, three days after he was taken into custody, Kılıç was charged with being a member of a terrorist organization. As a result, he was arrested and sent to jail. At the time of his arrest, he was the Chair of the Board of Amnesty International’s Turkey Branch. After his detention, in March 2018, he was nominated Honorary President of the Association.
Taner Kılıç has been charged with “membership to a terrorist organization” based on the allegation that he downloaded ByLock—a secure messaging application—and because he had opened an account in Bank Asya. He was accused of being affiliated with the Gülen Movement, which is held responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. Two independent forensic examinations of his phone commissioned by Amnesty International found no trace of ByLock on his phone. So far, the prosecutor has not submitted any evidence to support the accusation.
On 26 October 2017, which is one month after his detention started and only one day after the release of 10 rights defenders whose meeting was raided by the police on 5 July 2017, Taner Kılıç had his first hearing. Here, the court decided to keep Taner Kılıç in detention and ordered to merge his case with that of the 10 rights defenders—also known as Istanbul 10. Later on, it was alleged that Kılıç was “aware” of the meeting in Büyükada that was raided, which is subject of a criminal investigation.
Kılıç’s trial continued as part of the Büyükada case. On 31 January 2018, the 11 rights defenders had their first hearing together. Even though the court decided to release Kılıç, a new arrest warrant was issued for him within 24 hours. Therefore, he was arrested again on 1 February 2018.
Even though a report prepared by the Istanbul Police’s Anti-Cybercrimes Department confirmed that Kılıç had never downloaded ByLock on his phone, he was not released in the hearing held on 21 June 2018 either. This time, the court requested a new report on whether “he updated or reset his phone to factory settings.”
On 15 August 2018, during a monthly review of the case, the Court decided to release Kılıç from jail.
Known for his civil society work and decades-long efforts on immigration and refugee rights, and as an active member of refugee rights commissions of bar associations in Turkey, Taner Kılıç is still on trial. Following his 15-month detention, Kılıç is still facing the risk of imprisonment.
The 11 rights defenders, who are charged with “aiding an armed terrorist organizations” and “being members of an armed terrorist organization” due to their meeting titled “Digital Security and Protection of Human Rights Defenders,” attended their last hearing on 16 July 2019. The Presiding Judge announced that a new prosecutor was appointed. The newly appointed prosecutor requested additional time to draft the final opinion of the prosecution.
At the hearing on 27th of November, the prosecutor announced his opinion on the merits and asked Taner Kılıç to be punished for “being member of an armed terrorist organization”, meaning up to 15 years in prison.
At the 11th hearing on 19 February 2020, the defendants’ arguments on the merits were heard. In his defense, Taner Kılıç said that contrary to what was alleged, he did not install ByLock on his phone and this was confirmed by the report issued by the police. The allegations, which were put forward, denied that BankAsya had deposited money after the leader of the organization’s instructions and that the account movements were against the usual flow of life. “In this case, both us and our institutions were tried to be discredited and criminalized. We did not lose our respect despite the black propaganda against us,” he said.
Lawyer defenses will be heard at the hearing on April 3, 2020.
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.