Turkey: criminalisation & ill-treatment of Ersin Berke Gök & Caner Perit Özen (joint communication)

Photo: OMCT

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Turkey on 15 February 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government did not respond within this period. Replies, if received, will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: alleged criminalisation and ill-treatment of human rights defenders Ersin Berke Gök and Caner Perit Özen.

Messrs. Ersin Berke Gök and Caner Perit Özen are students at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Both form part of the Boğaziçi Resistance Movement, a peaceful student movement calling for academic freedom and university autonomy, which emerged following the appointment of a new Rector of Boğaziçi University by presidential decree in January 2021.

ALLEGATIONS

On 5 October 2021, Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen, along with eight other students from Boğaziçi University gathered to deliver a statement in front of the Boğaziçi University Rector’s building. While delivering the statement, which acknowledged the students’ participation in the wider Boğaziçi Resistance Movement and contained a request for an easing of Covid-19 prevention measures and the organisation of in person classes at the university, the students were assaulted by security guards contracted by the university. They were subsequently arrested by police and brought to Istanbul Police Headquarters, where seven of the students were held overnight, with the others released after making statements. On the same day, a formal complaint was filed against the students by Mr. Naci İnci, Rector of Boğaziçi University, for alleged threats, insult and damage to property, among other criminal acts. These events coincided with a speech delivered the same day by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the Beştepe People’s Congress and Culture Centre in Ankara, wherein he allegedly labelled protesting students as terrorists infiltrating universities.

On 6 October 2021, Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen and their fellow students were taken to the Istanbul Çağlayan Courthouse where they were interrogated at the prosecutor’s office. While four of the students were provisionally released following their interrogation, Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen and one fellow student were thereafter referred to the Istanbul 9th Magistrate’s Court. Upon appearing at the court the same day, while the provisional release of the third student was authorized, the pre-trial detention of Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen was ordered on charges of obstructing the exercise of public duties and failing to comply with orders of the security forces for the dispersal of an unlawful demonstration. The order of the court was based on a video allegedly showing Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen intercepting and climbing on Mr. İnci’s vehicle the previous day, an allegation which the students deny.

Following the order of the court, Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen were taken to Metris Prison where they were placed in solitary confinement for 51 days, before then being transferred to Silivri Prison, a high security institution, on 26 October 2021. While detained at Metris Prison, they were denied access to university exam papers and medicine. Following their transfer to Silivri Prison, they were denied access to letters addressed to them by family members, while Mr. Berke Gö k, who is vegan, was denied access to food compatible with his diet.

On 26 November 2021, Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen were formally indicted by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor on charges of failing to comply with orders from the security forces to disperse during an unlawful demonstration, per art. 32 of Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations, and deprivation of liberty, hijacking or seizing a vehicle, and preventing a public officer from performing their duties, per articles 109, 223 and 265 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, they face between 6 and 32 years’ imprisonment. Twelve other students were also formally accused in the case.

On 7 January 2022, the first hearing in the case took place before the 22nd Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance, during which the provisional release of Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen, who participated in the proceedings via video link, was ordered, and the next hearing in the trial set for 21 March 2022. Despite this scheduling, on 17 January 2022 the court allegedly held a private hearing with Mr. İnci and a group of security guards hired by Boğaziçi University, without informing Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen or their lawyers.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our serious concern at the alleged assault of Messrs. Berke Gök and Perit Özen and their fellow students, as well as the arrest of the human rights defenders, their pre-trial detention and period in solitary confinement, and their ongoing prosecution, which we fear to be based on their exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as to freedom of expression.

Actions

Submit Information

Submit confidential information on a HRD at risk

Communications and Press Releases

How do communications and press releases work?

Contact Mary

Reuest a meeting with Mary or her team