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Statement by Anna Rurka, President of the Conference of INGOs: Human Rights Leaders in danger and shrinking civic space for NGOs in Turkey

Human Rights Leaders in danger and shrinking civic space for NGOs in Turkey
Statement by Anna Rurka, President of the Conference of INGOs: Human Rights Leaders in danger and shrinking civic space for NGOs in Turkey

I am very concerned and worried about the repeated attacks against Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD) and its leaders in Turkey, long standing partner of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe.

IHD is 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. The 44 İHD members and executives who are being investigated on grounds of organising visits and meetings for peace efforts to solve the Kurdish issue.

Between 44 IHD prominent figures are two Chairs:

Oztürk Türkdoğanà Lawyer, co-chair of the Human Rights Association in Turkey and member of the founding committee of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

On 19 March 2021, we were alerted by the arrest of Mr Ozturk Turkdogan, Head of Ankara-based Human Rights Associations (IHD) and member of the founding committee of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. Mr Öztürk Türkdoğan is a lawyer and a prominent figure in the human rights movement in Turkey. Throughout his career, Oztruk Türkdoğan has intervened in many court cases concerning rights violations.

Oztruk Türkdoğan is still subject to investigations and faces several charges, facing the risk of imprisonment in his trials. Following his arrest on 19 March, Mr Türkdoğan has been released on bail and was sanctioned with a travel ban.

Eren Keskinà Co-chair of the Human Rights Association

Eren Keskin is a prominent human rights defender and lawyer in Turkey. Ms. Keskin is the recipient of various international awards for her human rights work, including the 2018 Helsinki Civil Society Award, and was a finalist of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2019. However, she faces more than 124 separate trials for defending press freedom, women’s rights, prisoners’ rights and fighting for justice for the families of the forcibly disappeared. Only four of these trials have been dismissed, on the ground of either acquittal or the statute of limitations.

On 15 February 2021, İstanbul 23rd Heavy Penal Court sentenced Eren Keskin to six years and three months in prison for “membership in an illegal armed organization” (Article 314/2 of the TPC) in the Özgür Gündem trial.

According to finalised trials, she has been sentenced to a total of 29 years 9 months 20 days in prison under Articles 314/2, 299, 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Her imprisonment sentence is still under appellate review at the Court of Appeals. She is free now but if the Court of Appeals upholds the sentence, Ms. Keskin will be imprisoned for more than 10 years.

The situation of both Chairs is a blatant example of severe deterioration of human rights for Turkish NGOs.

Considering recent restrictive measures undertaken against civil society[1] in Turkey and Presidential decree deciding on the withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, despite strong civil society mobilisation in favor of this convention aiming to combat domestic violence and femicide, the situation of the mentioned human rights leaders demonstrates the very restrictive space for the NGOs in Turkey.

I urge the authorities in Turkey to end the stigmatisation and targeting of İHD and all rights defenders and to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and association in the country.

The rights defenders have to be able to conduct their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, including judicial harassment.

[1] Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, No. 7262. https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/ eskiler/2020/12/20201231M5-19.htm