Turkey court orders release of human rights activists

Turkey court orders release of human rights activists
Eight human rights activists, on trial in Istanbul on "terror charges", have been released on bail, including Amnesty International's director of Turkey Idil Eser.
3 min read
26 October, 2017

A Turkish court late on Wednesday bailed eight human rights activists including Amnesty International's director of Turkey Idil Eser, who are on trial over contested terror charges.

But the court ordered that Amnesty's Turkey chairman Taner Kilic remain in detention, an AFP correspondent at the court said.

Those released pending a verdict face another hearing set for November 22.

A total of 11 activists including a German and a Swedish national went on trial in Istanbul on Wednesday, which the rights watchdog sees as a test case for the Turkish judiciary. 

All bar two of the activists had been behind bars since a police raid in July on a workshop run by Amnesty on an island off Istanbul. 

The two foreigners are free to leave the country, a defence lawyer told AFP, after the activists are released as expected overnight.

Kilic was detained in June and his case has been merged with that of the other 10 activists as prosecutors claimed he was aware of preparations for the workshop.

He has been charged with membership of an armed terror group while the others are charged with "aiding" an armed terror group. Kilic was present in court via video link from prison.

He will also appear at a hearing on Thursday in Izmir, western Turkey, on a separate charge of being a member of the organisation accused of launching last year's failed coup.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, said that the rights group could "finally celebrate friends and colleagues" returning to loved ones and their homes, but "any joy is tainted by the ongoing detention" of Kilic.

I don't have anything to regret. I just did my work as a human rights defender.

The activists are accused of seeking to wreak "chaos in society" - a similar charge to the one brought against anti-government protesters whose demonstrations rocked Turkey in the summer of 2013.

Eser said she rejected all the accusations.

"Defending human rights is not a crime. It is out of the question for Amnesty International to set an agenda in line with terror groups," she told the court.

"I don't understand how I can be associated with three different terrorist organisations by having attended a workshop.

"I don't have anything to regret. I just did my work as a human rights defender."

Eser said Amnesty defended individuals' rights irrespective of their political views, showing as an example the group's support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he was jailed for reciting a poem in 1998.

Ozlem Dalkiran, of Citizens' Assembly, said she read the indictment many times but "as a human rights defender I barely understand how a workshop ends up being linked to aiding an armed terror group".

The charges amplified concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey under the state of emergency imposed after last year's failed coup.

Erdogan in July said the activists were detained after a tip-off that they were working against the government.

Amnesty International's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner said the case against the human rights defenders was "a completely baseless prosecution that doesn't have a shred of evidence and doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny".