Türkiye: Apparent misuse of counter-terrorism legislation against HRDs working on the rights of the internally displaced 

On 13 December 2022, 18 human rights defenders will stand trial in Türkiye reportedly charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. I am deeply concerned that their case has been allowed to reach trial stage. 

The 18 HRDs are charged in relation with their current or previous membership of GÖÇİZDER, a non-governmental organisation working to highlight grave human rights violations that have occurred in the context of forced displacement in Türkiye and which works to help with the repatriation of victims.  

Lawful and standard financial transactions between the members of GÖÇİZDER (such as payment to an attorney, or a graphic designer) have reportedly been portrayed as financing terrorism, without tangibly showing any connection. They are also accused of spreading PKK terrorist ideology among internally displaced persons. 

On 16 September 2022, I wrote a communication to the Government of Turkiye to express my concern about their detention and criminalisation. 

The communication explains how, in June 2022, 23 persons associated with of the organisation (of which at least 18 are HRDs) were taken into custody after raids were carried out on their homes. Publications by the organisation, “Curfews and Violations of Rights Experienced by Women in the Forced Migration Process”, “Migration Stories of Non- Muslims Displaced in the 90’s” and “Migration Stories of Kurds Displaced in the 90’s”, were confiscated by the police. 

Authorities also placed a confidentiality order on the investigation file, common for terrorism-related cases, and which has now been lifted. While six of the detainees were released under judicial control, those that remain in detention have had limited access to medicine and medical assistance and at least one of those detainees, Bilal Yıldız, has reportedly been subjected to particularly harsh conditions during his detention.  

The Government replied to the communication denying these allegations. The reply claimed that the individuals are not being kept in overcrowded cells, have access to medication and no complaints have been received from Mr. Yıldız about his treatment in detention. The Government also reiterated in its reply that GÖÇİZDER had been using its funds to support a terrorist organisation with funds it received from international organisations.  

I am deeply concerned by this apparent misuse of counter-terrorism legislation to target human rights defenders carrying out their legitimate work supporting and sharing information on the rights of the internally displaced. It is deeply troubling to see how Türkiye’s courts are yet again being weaponised against those who seek to uphold human rights in the country. 

The human rights defenders from GÖÇİZDER should be swiftly acquitted.

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