Istanbul court jails human rights activists on terror charges

A Turkish court on Friday convicted Taner Kilic, former chairman of Amnesty International, of membership in a terror organisation and sentenced him to over six years in prison. (AP)
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Updated 05 July 2020

Istanbul court jails human rights activists on terror charges

  • The prosecution claimed that the hotel gathering was a “secret meeting to organize an uprising,” in order to trigger a “chaos environment” in the country – a claim categorically denied by the defendants

ISTANBUL: Human rights activists, including a former head of Amnesty International’s Turkish branch, have been jailed by an Istanbul court on terror-related charges in a decision condemned as an “outrage” by fellow campaigners.

Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair Taner Kilic was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “terror organization membership.”

Gunal Kursun from the Human Rights Agenda Association; Idil Eser, former executive director of Amnesty International Turkey; and Ozlem Dalkiran, former head of Amnesty International’s communications department, were each handed jail terms of one year and 13 months for “aiding a terror organization.”

Their lawyers said the motive behind the high-profile case, which concluded on Friday, was to silence and intimidate human rights organizations.

Amnesty International has described the case as a travesty of justice.

Idil Eser, a defendant in the case, told Arab News: “It is disappointing and legally concerning to be punished as a human rights defender for acts which are not criminal. It is not a crime to defend human rights. We hope that this conviction which is baseless in legal terms would be annulled at the appeal. It is crystal clear that all defendants in this case are not criminals, because there is not a crime at all.”

The defendants are now expected to appeal the verdict in the case dubbed the ‘Buyukada trial.”

Other human rights activists, including Nalan Erkem, lknur Ustun, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Veli Acu, Nejat Tastan and Seyhmus Ozbekli, were acquitted.

The activists were arrested three years ago in a police raid on a hotel on Buyukada Island, near Istanbul, where they were taking part in a workshop. Police seized their computers and phones, and arrested the group on terror charges.

It is disappointing and legally concerning to be punished as a human rights defender for acts which are not criminal. It is not a crime to defend human rights. We hope that this conviction which is baseless in legal terms would be annulled at the appeal.

Idil Eser, a defendant

The prosecution claimed that the hotel gathering was a “secret meeting to organize an uprising,” in order to trigger a “chaos environment” in the country – a claim categorically denied by the defendants.

Members of the international community stood in solidarity with the accused and said that the case is politically motivated.

“Another disappointing court verdict against civil rights and civil society in Turkey. Not how we put our relations on a positive track. My thoughts are with imprisoned and families. Solidarity with democratic forces in Turkey!” tweeted Sergey Lagodinsky, chair of the EU-Turkey delegation at the European Parliament.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, voiced concerns that Turkey is targeting and silencing human rights defenders.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, who observed the hearing, said the verdict is an outrage based on absurd allegations without any evidence and is supported by a pro-government media smear campaign.

“It was a huge disappointment. It has been three years and 12 hearings so far. What we saw is that the court in its verdicts decided to stick with the claims of the government media in Turkey, rather than justice, reason and logic,” he told Arab News.

“We are not only disappointed for these human rights activists in the trial, but also for anyone who believes in justice and peaceful civil society activism in Turkey. But we won’t give up until all are acquitted and we will be campaigning for justice,” he added.

Later this month, prominent civil society figure and businessman Osman Kavala will mark his 1,000th day behind bars over allegations of terror and fomenting chaos in the country by funding human rights activism.

Erdal Dogan, the lawyer for Idil Eser, said defending human rights has never been easy in Turkey.

“However, in recent years, those who defend human rights have been demonized,” he told Arab News.

Dogan says a court decision to maintain the verdict will signify a move away from the modern legal and universal human rights systems.

“In that case, the regime will get out of hand and no civil and independent social monitoring will be applied,” he added.

 


Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

A Lebanese protester hangs a gallow in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 36 min 2 sec ago

Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

  • MPs resign in protest as political fallout intensifies
  • As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying

BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters set up a mock gallows in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday and demanded “revenge” against politicians widely held responsible for the deadly explosion that devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.

At least 60 people are still missing after the massive blast in Beirut port, which killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 others and left thousands homeless.

As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of people who gathered in the capital calling for the downfall of the country’s political elite, chanting:
“The people want the regime to fall.”

More than 100 protesters were injured in the clashes.

After demonstrators set up the mock gallows, effigies of political leaders, including former prime minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were displayed in some of the most explicit signs of public anger seen in years.

Police shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who responded by hurling rocks and charging security cordons.

One of the protesters, who gave her name only as Lina, said: “We came from Hasbaya in solidarity with Beirut. We came to stand together in grief and offer condolence for the loss of sons and daughters.

“We came to tell all the leaders to leave so that we can rebuild what you have destroyed, what happened is because of your negligence and greed,” she said.

Meanwhile, the three-member Kataeb party parliamentary bloc resigned on Saturday in protest at the blast, bringing to five the number of MPs to quit since the disaster.

In an emotional speech during a funeral service for a top party official who died in Tuesday’s blast, party leader Samy Gemayel announced his resignation and that of the two other MPs.

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian also resigned, while MP Michel Daher announced his withdrawal from the Strong Lebanon bloc led by the Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil.

As international aid flows into shell-shocked Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay and European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the city to deliver relief aid and offer support.

After meeting President Michel Aoun and inspecting damage at the Foreign Ministry, near the port, Gheit said he would ask the Economic and Social Council to meet in the next two weeks to "examine the situation in Lebanon and how to help.”

He described the situation as “a disaster,” and said that “we must recognize that the Lebanese situation is difficult and complex.”

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced that the wife of Dutch envoy to Lebanon Jan Waltmans died of wounds sustained in the blast.

The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon said that 43 Syrians were among those killed in the explosion.

Military teams working at the blast site carried out tests for chemical, radioactive or biological agents on Saturday, Col. Roger Khoury told Arab News during a media tour.

Rescue teams are working round the clock looking for cell phone signals in the search for those missing after the blast.

However, the teams say they are being hampered by debris from the explosion, including concrete rubble from grain silos destroyed in the blast.

Military divers searching the port and nearby ocean for victims of the blast found a body hurled 500 meters by the force of the blast.

By early Saturday, a total of 61 relief planes had landed at Beirut airport carrying medical and relief supplies as well as food, Ministry of Defense Operations Room Commander Brig. Gen. Jean Nohra told Arab News.

He said that medical supplies are being distributed in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

Supplies are being stored at the headquarters of the Central Military Medical Authority in Beirut before being distributed, he said.