ANKARA: The prosecution of a human rights defender demonstrates the Erdogan government’s policy of “bringing baseless criminal charges against people involved in legitimate and peaceful civil society activities,” Human Rights Watch said today.
Ozturk Turkdogan, co-chair of the Human Rights Association, Turkey’s oldest human rights group, is scheduled to stand trial in Ankara on Tuesday to face charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
If found guilty, he could face five to ten years behind bars.
He will also face separate trials for “insulting” the interior minister and “insulting the Turkish nation, Republic of Turkey, state institutions and bodies.”
Each could land him an additional two years in jail.
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The prosecution of Ozturk Turkdogan, the long-term co-chair of the Human Rights Association, is an attempt to criminalize legitimate human rights work and the right to free speech.”
All indictments against him were prepared in December 2021.
“The fact that Ankara prosecutors prepared three indictments against Turkdogan in a single month for speeches and statements that do not advocate violence and were made over several years points to a political order from above behind these criminal proceedings,” Williamson said.
HRW said the evidence in the indictment charging Turkdogan with “membership in a terrorist organization,” the most serious charge he faces, consists of Turkdogan’s speeches, statements and conversations in his capacity as the co-chair of the Human Rights Association.
It cites statements made in broadcasts in Kurdish media outlets, including in which he calls for the end of the prolonged solitary confinement of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The indictment also cites three photographs found on Turkdogan’s laptop showing banners prepared by the Human Rights Association.
Two protest solitary confinement in prisons and the treatment of sick prisoners while a third calls for the recognition of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1980s as a genocide against Kurds.
“The Turkish authorities should ensure that all charges against Ozturk Turkdogan are dropped immediately,” Williamson said.
“The government should stop harassing human rights defenders and ensure that they can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals, arrest and abusive criminal proceedings,” he said.