Turkey: Öztürk Türkdoğan facing multiple criminal proceedings (joint communication)

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 22 February 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public. The Government responded on 21 April 2022, providing additional information, updates, and refuting some allegations.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Govenment's response

BACKGROUND

Topic: multiple criminal proceedings against human rights defender Öztürk Türkdoğan, co-chairperson of the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD) in Turkey.

Mr. Öztürk Türkdoğan is a human rights defender who has been a chairperson of the Human Rights Association (İHD) since 2008. He is also a lawyer and member of the Ankara Bar Association.

We have raised concerns with the Turkish Government on numerous previous occasions regarding the criminalisation and harassment of members of İHD, most recently in communications TUR 9/2021, sent on 20 May 2021, TUR 7/2019, sent on 9 July 2019 and TUR 5/2019, sent on 16 May 2019. We thank the Government for your willingness to engage with UN Special Procedures on these issues through the replies received to all of these communications, however we regret that İHD members continue to be targeted for their human rights work.

ALLEGATIONS

On 19 March 2021, Mr. Türkdoğan’s home in Ankara was raided by police officers in the early hours of the morning. The police provided a warrant and he was taken into custody at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office, where he was informed that he was under investigation for “membership of an illegal armed organisation” in line with Article 314/2 of the Criminal Code. He was reportedly questioned in relation to statements that he made about prison conditions of a detainee in İmralı Prison that appeared in the press, as well as his interactions with national and international officials on the case, including the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Mr. Türkdoğan was allowed access to his lawyer while detained at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Türkdoğan was released later that day pending investigation. He was required to present himself once a week to his local police station and was handed down a ban on international travel on the same day. The decision for Mr. Türkdoğan to present himself once a week to his local police station was lifted in November 2021, although the international travel ban is still in place.

Mr. Türkdoğan is due to appear before the Ankara 19th Heavy Penal Court on 22 February 2022. If convicted on this charge he faces between five and ten years in prison.

Since December 2021, he has been handed down two additional charges. On 4 January 2022, he was handed down the charge of “degrading the Turkish nation, state of the Turkish Republic and institutions and organs of the state” under Article 301 of the Criminal Code, which he will face before the Ankara 24th Criminal Court of First Instance. The charges relate to an article published on the İHD website titled “Stop Denying the Armenian Genocide for Justice and Truth”, on 24 April 2017. If convicted on this charge, he faces up to two years in prison. A hearing date for this charge has not been determined to date. Mr. Türkdoğan was also charged with “insult” under Article 125/3 of the Criminal Code on 11 January 2022.

The charge related to a statement published by İHD on 29 June 2018 which was critical of statements made by the Interior Minister about civil society organisations and other groups. It was alleged in the indictment that the statement by İHD was defamatory and intended to harm the Minister’s honour or reputation. The first hearing in this case is due to take place before the Ankara 60th Criminal Court of First Instance on 18 February 2022. A conviction carries a prison sentence of up to two years. According to reports, the maximum penalty Mr. Türkdoğan is facing is fourteen years’ imprisonment, however, the penalties given may differ.

CONCERNS

In the communication express our deep concern regarding the attempted criminalisation of Mr. Türkdoğan for his legitimate human rights work and exercise of freedom of expression. We are particularly concerned that Mr. Türkdoğan’s work on the rights of prisoners, which was carried out in coordination with international organisations, has been conflated with violent national security related crimes, and could lead to his imprisonment for up to ten years.

In line with our previous communications, we reiterate our concerns about the vagueness of the counterterrorist and national security legislation in Turkey. We note with concern that this legislation is being misused to target human rights defenders and lawyers critical of the Government. In particular, we are concerned by the use of Article 314/2 whereby Mr. Türkdoğan, like many other human rights defenders previously mentioned in TUR 9/2021, has been accused of the serious crime of “membership” of an illegal armed organisation, despite that there is reportedly no proof of his membership or association with any such groups.

We are furthermore deeply concerned by the charge of “degrading the Turkish nation” against Mr. Türkdoğan, which appears to target the legitimate free speech and human rights work of İHD in the context of truth justice and reparations. We are also concerned that the Interior Minister, an elected public official, could bring “insult” charges against those critical of comments he made in an official capacity. We reminded the Government that criminal defamation laws, particularly those that accommodate public officials bringing defamation lawsuits against criticism of their activities in public office, are detrimental to freedom of expression and should be revoked or revised. Criminal law should only be used against speech only in very exceptional and most egregious circumstances of incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination.

UPDATE

On 19 April 2022, Mr. Öztürk Türkdoğan was acquitted of the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” and his travel ban was lifted.

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

Home

News

Search

Information received

Contact