As the Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders – Turkey, whose foundations were laid in the first months of 2019 and who officially declared its establishment with the call of 13 institutions on 17 December 2019, we invited you to provide an account of the last year and to explain the intensified attacks against human rights defenders in recent months.
Throughout the year 2020, most of which we spent under the conditions of the pandemic, attacks, crackdown and repressions against civil society and human rights defenders continued without slowing down. As you can see from the press file, we shared with you, while the Gezi and Büyükada cases, where rights defenders have been tried and which we closely follow as symbolic cases against civil society, continued, civil society activities have become the subject of new cases. Dozens of rights defenders had new criminal cases opened against them for various reasons and were convicted
Physicians, healthcare professionals and workers working in the manufacturing/production area, who were heavily affected by the pandemic conditions, faced obstacles whenever they wanted to protect / defend their most fundamental right to life. In this respect, their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as well as demonstration was widely violated. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of physicians, healthcare professionals and trade unionists on the grounds of pandemic conditions have almost become the norm. Journalists reporting these practices also faced with repression and interventions.
The bans on activities imposed due to the pandemic sometimes prevented non-governmental organizations or made it difficult for manufacturing/production area them to carry out their activities and operate their institutional mechanisms, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly by banning routine meetings such as the general assembly meetings.
While the hate speech by state officials targeting LGBTI+ community increased, Pride Marches were banned. NGOs and Bar Associations that raised their voices against this threatening and unsafe environment for LGBTI+ rights defenders and organizations, were investigated.
Women’s rights defenders who took to the streets in response to the debate on the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, first in Istanbul and then in almost every town in Turkey, were subjected to police violence and unfair investigations.
The environmental movement and rights defenders in the field also faced with repression and violence due to their protests during this period. Rights defenders who wanted to protect the waters, valleys and mountains were intimidated by fines imposed on the grounds of pandemic conditions.
Lawyers who resisted the amendment to the law that threatened the autonomous and independent bar associations, which we can regard as safeguards of the human rights movement and fight, were also affected by these attacks. The draft amendment, which had been prepared without addressing the bar associations and without taking any of their opinions, passed through the Assembly and quickly became law, while the presidents of the bar associations, who had marched to Ankara were holding watch in the garden of the Assembly. Many lawyers were investigated, arrested, and prosecuted for their human rights work.
Rights defenders who were unjustly detained in prison were excluded from the scope of the law enacted as a result of pandemic measures and had once again their rights violated.
Yes, in sum, the whole year went like that and 2020 was all in all a difficult year for civil society.
In this difficult year we are leaving behind, we tried to raise our voices in the face of all these things and to share with the public the practices that rights defenders are subjected to. We have been attentive to sustain the solidarity, sometimes through press releases, sometimes by informing international mechanisms, sometimes by organizing meetings that enable the transfer of experience on important issues, and sometimes by strengthening communication with rights defenders who are trying to cope with increasing repression.
In recent months, we have witnessed very interesting discussions and discourses. “EU Membership” discussions, a former agenda topic of democratisation and of Turkey that respected law and human rights, were brought up once again on the agenda with “reform” emphasis. With statements such as “we see ourselves in Europe”, it has been signalled that Turkey was open to recover the relations with the EU, which have been neglected for many years.
This debate was continued with suggestions from a small number of people in the government for the release of Osman Kavala, who was kept in prison despite the final ECtHR decision. Simultaneously, a smear campaign was once again targeting non-governmental organizations and civil society activities, accompanied by speeches and news about Osman Kavala that would fuel hatred and hostility against him.
Furthermore, on the same days, 72 people, including dozens of lawyers, civil society representatives and politicians, were detained during the operation in Diyarbakır. Among the 4 people arrested afterwards was the former Central Council member of the Turkish Medical Association Dr. Şeyhmus Gökalp. On the same dates, another doctor, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation Turkey Cizre Reference Center head physician and Şırnak Medical Chamber President Dr. Serdar Küni were also sentenced to prison on the charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization” as a result of retrial.
In the meantime, criminal proceedings were initiated against 46 people who had been arrested at the 700th Week meeting of the Saturday Mothers, in August 2018, when a ban on the sit-in protest that they had been carrying out in Galatasaray Square for years started
The rights defenders, Turkish Medical Association President Şebnem Korur Fincancı, RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu and writer-journalist Ahmet Nesin were charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” on account of their participation in ‘On-duty Editor-in-Chief campaign’ in 2016, launched in solidarity with the Özgür Gündem newspaper. The verdict of acquittal that was given on their behalf on 17 July 2019, which had set a precedent for dozens of other rights defenders, was overturned by the 3rd Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Criminal Court of Appeal during the same period. The fact that this decision came right after the elections at the Turkish Medical Association raised questions.
During this period, Osman Kavala continued to be kept in detention despite the very clear demands of the Committee of Ministers, and the convictions in the Büyükada Case were upheld by the Appellate Court at an unusual speed.
In short, the intensifying repression of civil society and human rights defenders in the last months of 2020, the policies and measures preventing them from fulfilling their very important responsibility for the protection of human rights in a democratic society, punishing and intimidating them for their work, showed why we established this network. We, as human rights defenders, acknowledged once again the importance of increasing solidarity against oppression and attacks against us under all circumstances. We need to further strengthen our efforts to meet this need.
Together with 22 organizations that are part of the network today, we will prevent the targeting of our friends, our work and our institutions in the coming period. We will continue to remain in solidarity against the attacks towards us by investigations and lawsuits; We inform you that we will always stand against the criminalization of defending rights, especially in the pandemic crisis, during which the work of rights defenders has become much more important, as all humanity has been struggling, as
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of our network. We have a long way to go. In the upcoming period, we will continue to defend our rights and follow our demand for a favourable environment for rights defenders.
Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders – Turkey
Amnesty International, Citizens’ Assembly Turkey, Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, Association of Lawyers for Freedom, Civic Space Studies Association, Civil Rights Defenders, Foundation for Society and Legal Studies, Human Rights Agenda Association, Human Rights Association Istanbul Branch, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Initiative for Freedom of Expression, Kaos GL, Kırkayak Culture, Life Memory Freedom Association, Media and Law Studies Association, Punto24 Association for Independent Journalism, Research Institute on Turkey, SPoD LGBTİ+, The Rights Initiative Association, Truth Justice Memory Center, Turkey Litigation Support Project, Turkish-German Forum of Culture
Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders – Turkey is a network of human rights organizations which insists that defending human rights is a universal right. The Network is committed to strengthen solidarity and communication among its members and to challenge all forms of repression and harassment against human rights defenders.