As President Erdogan works on the consolidation of his power, Turkey looks an increasingly dark place for human rights defenders. Their President uses the excuse of national security to persecute those who speak for the rights of others. He may hope that the international community will not notice. He may believe that the way to ensure a harmonious and governable society is to silence those who question you down.
He is wrong on both counts.
Make a difference
A criminal court in Istanbul has just postponed the trial of human rights defender Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı till March 21st. The charges, first made in July 2016, are under Turkey’s anti-terror laws and are of:
- provoking commission of an offence
- praising the offence and the offenders
- making propaganda of terrorist organisation through means of press
They could lead to fourteen years imprisonment.
Who is Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincancı?
She is a prominent doctor and human rights defender who is President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Foundation is involved in the documentation of alleged cases of torture, in rehabilitation and in support of the legal cases of those who allege torture. She is a founding member of the Forensic Doctors’ Association and helped develop the Istanbul Protocol, the gold standard document used in the assessment and documentation of torture-related injuries.
Dr Financı was arrested on July 20th and held for 10 days before being released. She has again been released.
What had she done?
With her two co-defendants Ahmet Nesin and Erol Önderoğlu she had taken part in a solidarity campaign with the now-closed-down Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) newspaper , a prominent newspaper known for covering Kurdish issues. The campaign was to defend freedom of the press. Forty-four journalists and human rights defenders took turns serving as the Editor in Chief of the newspaper for a period of one day. Sebnem Korur Fincancı and her co-defendants took part in this campaign. The Prosecutor has initiated investigations into the alleged propaganda of terrorism in respect of 37 of those participating 44.
On 16 August 2016, the newspaper was “temporarily” shut down following a court order, and some twenty journalists and editors were taken into custody. Some were released, but columnist Aslı Erdoğan, editor in-chief Zana Kaya and newsroom editor İnan Kızılkaya remained imprisoned, facing charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity.” The closed newspaper was quickly succeeded by the digital newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi (“Libertarian democracy”). Its website is not accessible in Turkey.
Turkey seeks admission to the ‘club’ of Europe, a seat at the tables of Europe in which Nations work together on matters such as trade, security and justice in the spirit of shared understanding and shared values. But whilst the head smiles the hand seizes power and the heel grinds dissenters underfoot.
If Turkey can imprison prosecute a decent, honest, respected medical professional like Dr Financı it is because they think her dangerous to their vision of Turkey. The only danger posed by honesty, fairness and the evidence-based pursuit of an open human rights agenda is to those who abuse the power they hold and the people they are there to serve.
What can you do?
If you are in Turkey, and you feel you can do so without personal risk, seek to attend her trial, stand outside in solidarity, make it clear she is not forgotten. However, if you are a Turkish national then beware, you may be upholding freedoms you do not enjoy.
Write to the authorities in Turkey, urging them to:
1. Drop all the charges against Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu and Mr. Ahmet Nesin and ensure that any remaining judicial proceedings against them are carried out in full compliance with the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
2. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Turkey, including Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu and Mr. Ahmet Nesin.
3. Put an end to the ongoing crackdown on civil society under the pretext of countering terrorism and recognise the legitimate role of human rights defenders, in line with Turkey’s international obligations;
4. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular Articles 1, 12.1 and 12.2;
President of Turkey, Recep, Mr. Tayyip Erdoğan, Fax: (+90 312) 525 58 31, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu; Fax: +90 (312) 403 62 82
Minister of Justice, Mr. Bekir Bozdağ, Fax: +90 (0312) 419 33 70; E-mail: email@example.com
Minister of Interior, Mr. Efkan Ala; Fax: +90 (312) 425 61 30; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ambassador Izzet Selim Yenel, Diplomatic Mission of Turkey to the European Union in Brussels, Fax: + 32 2 511 04 50
Ambassador Mehmet Ferden Çarikçi, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Fax: +41 22 734 08 59; Email: email@example.com