Valiant human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu: Ahval’s person of the year

Ahval has chosen a leading figure in Turkey’s human rights struggle, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, as its 2019 person of the year.

The 54-year-old activist, author and journalist has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of tens of thousands of people in the country dismissed from their jobs by government decrees following a coup attempt in July 2016.

Gergerlioğlu himself is one of the some 150,000 public employees suspended or sacked from their jobs as part of an ongoing crackdown by Turkish government on those allegedly linked to the failed putsch.

Elected as a deputy for the pro-Kurdish HDP in June 2018, Gergerlioğlu has made it a mission to continue advocating for those victimised by government policies, regardless of their ethnic, religious or ideological background.

The HDP lawmaker stands out as a brave voice in a country where the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has targeted and silenced critics, including members of parliament, the judiciary and journalists.

Mass arrests continue across Turkey over three years after the failed coup, with more than 70,000 people placed behind bars since. Critics maintain the government is seeking to stifle dissent rather than protect Turkey’s democracy.

Gergerlioğlu made headlines this year when he brought into the spotlight the torture in police custody of dozens of former foreign ministry staff detained for links to the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt. The Turkish government designates the group led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen a terrorist organisation.

A subsequent investigation by the Ankara Bar association confirmed that 78 detainees held at the Ankara Police Department’s financial crimes department had faced heavy torture, including sexual abuse.  

His claim prompted Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu to label him as a Gülenist, tantamount to being called a terrorist, but the activist stood his ground against Ankara.

"I have always been a human rights defender, Soylu,’’ the HPD lawmaker clapped back. “You, however, have always been a person who adapts to any given period, and you will change (again), tomorrow, too.”

“Your slander will not conceal the torture. Of course the person who chooses to turn a blind eye to the (Ankara) bar association’s report would resort to defamation,” Gergerlioğlu added.

The HDP lawmaker regularly tweets on human rights violations in Turkey and voices the concerns of family members who are unable to communicate with their detained loved ones and are concerned for their well-being.

Gergerlioğlu has focused on the effects of the decrees issued by the government during the two year emergency rule declared following the failed coup.

Turkey’s state of emergency rule came to an end in July of 2018, but a new law passed shortly thereafter allows summary dismissals of public sector workers deemed to have links to what Ankara calls terrorist organisations, or other groups posing a threat to national security, to continue for another three years.  

A former district chairman for Mazlumder, once a prominent human rights organisation, and former spokesman for the Platform for Rights and Justice, Gergerlioğlu is a member of Turkey’s Parliamentary Human Rights Commission.