The Gezi trial or the systematic criminalisation of Turkish civil society
The fifth hearing of the Gezi trial will resume on 28 January 2020, on the same day as the Universal Periodic Review of Turkey at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Sixteen civil society figures will be tried for “attempting to overthrow the government or partially or wholly preventing its functions” for their alleged role in the Gezi protests. This trial reveals a broader phenomenon namely the systematic attempt from the authorities to undermine the legitimate work of civil society organisations.
Judicial persecution of human rights defenders is sadly not new in Turkey. The proceedings against Osman Kavala and the fifteen other defendants have however come to symbolise Turkey’s strategy: prevent civic participation in public life and pair peaceful and licit actions aimed at improving democracy with criminal prosecutions, most often on the grounds of alleged links to terrorist organisations.
The Gezi trial sheds light on the issues concerning the situation of human rights defenders in Turkey who now face severe restrictions, smear campaigns, judicial harassment and arbitrary criminal prosecution on a daily basis. The Kavala case should be seen against this backdrop of continuously increasing pressure.
On 10 December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights estimated that the more than 800 days spent in detention by Mr Kavala were, “beyond reasonable doubt”, aimed at reducing the defendant to silence and with him all human rights defenders.
Legislation not aligned with international human rights standards is being used to judicially harass and criminalise human rights workers. These include anti-terror laws, public order legislation, laws on associations, foundations, the internet and the media.
Since the failed coup of 15 July 2016, mass detention and arrests of thousands of people not involved in any violent acts are common. From “propagandising for a terrorist organisation”, “being a member of a terrorist organisation”, “insulting the President”, “denigration of Turkishness”, “incitement to enmity and hatred” and “revealing state secrets“, countless investigations and trials involving fabricated charges were recently opened against human rights defenders.
EuroMed Rights and the Human Rights Association call upon the Turkish authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Osman Kavala, human rights defenders and other civil society actors who have been detained and prosecuted as a result of their legitimate human rights work;
- Refrain from using language that vilifies human rights defenders and take steps to address the climate of fear and intimidation by positively and publicly recognising the important role of human rights defenders and the legitimacy of their work;
- Reinstate the necessary conditions to ensure the independence, impartiality, accountability, quality, efficiency and professionalism of the judiciary and national human rights institutions;
- Revoke Law n°7145 regulating the permanent state of emergency;
- Ensure that existing legislation – in particular the anti-terror Law, the Criminal Code, the law on assemblies and demonstrations– is revised to comply with international standards and is implemented in a manner which does not curtail freedom of expression and ensures proportionality and equality before the law;
- Ensure that criminal law provisions, in particular terror related crimes and articles on “insulting the President” and “degrading the Turkishness”, are not used as a means of putting pressure on critical voices.
Human Rights Association