Turks fight for human rights at their peril, Amnesty says

Amnesty International said Turks fighting for their rights are at grave risk, as 11 human rights defenders charged with terrorism and spying are set to learn the verdict of their trial on Friday.

“From the start, this has been a politically motivated trial aiming to silence those in the dock and send a message to the rest of society: fight for human rights or speak the truth at your peril,” the rights group’s former director Idil Eser - who is one of the defendants in the trial - was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The 11 activists, including Eser and the honorary chair of Turkey´s Amnesty International branch Taner Kılıç were arrested in a police raid in 2017 over a workshop on digital security and charged with spying and aiding a terrorist organisation.

Prosecutors accused the rights defenders of holding a “secret meeting to organise a Gezi-type uprising” in order to foment “chaos” in the country.

Presenting “legitimate human rights activities as unlawful acts has comprehensively failed,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

If found guilty, the defendants could face up to 15 years behind bars, the human rights watchdog said.

Eight of them, including two foreign nationals, spent 113 days in prison before being released on bail, while Kılıç was released after spending 14 months in prison on charges of membership of the Gülen movement, which Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016 and has designated a terrorist organisation.

“Following the bloody coup attempt in July 2016, under the guise of a two-year state of emergency, the government launched a sustained assault on civil society. An astonishing 130,000 public service workers have been arbitrarily dismissed and more than 1,300 non-governmental organisations and 180 media outlets have been closed down. Independent journalism has been all but obliterated,” Amnesty International said.

“In such circumstances, the job of a human rights activist became more vital than ever and at the same time more risky,” Amnesty added.a