PACE rapporteurs express ‘deep concern’ over Büyükada case

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteurs Alexandra Louis (France), Thomas Hammarberg (Sweden) and John Howell (Britain) have expressed deep concern over the Büyükada case ending in conviction.

Four human rights activists were issued prison sentences ranging from two years and one month to six years and three months on terrorism charges, in the lawsuit colloquially named after Istanbul’s Büyükada island where 11 activists had met for a workshop.

The indictment said activists, including Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair and former director, Taner Kılıç and İdil Eser, had been plotting a coup in the 2017 meeting, which attendants maintained was a workshop on digital security.

While the four activists were sentenced to time in prison, the remaining seven were acquitted.

“I am shocked by the heavy prison sentences handed down against Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Günal Kuşun and Özlem Dalkıran – on charges related to terrorism offences, which according to several sources are unfounded,” human rights rapporteur Louis said in a joint statement released on Thursday. “These convictions raise serious concerns about the functioning of the judiciary and respect for the rule of law in Turkey.”

The verdict will act as a deterrent on the work of human rights defenders in Turkey, Louis added.

Monitoring rapporteurs for Turkey Hammarberg and Howell called the court’s ruling “regrettable and very serious,” as they expressed concerns that it could “further contribute to silence dissenting or critical voices.”

“We urge the Turkish authorities to revise legislation, in particular the Anti-Terror Law, and to change judicial practices to ensure the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly,” the Turkey rapporteurs said.

Kılıç was convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation,” namely the Gülen movement that Turkey maintains is responsible for the failed coup attempt in 2016 and several long-running plots to overthrow Turkey’s government.

The main piece of evidence against Kılıç was the encrypted messaging app ByLock, that Turkish authorities believe is used almost exclusively by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Eser, Dalkıran and Kuşun were convicted of aiding and abetting FETÖ, the name Turkey uses for Gülen’s followers.