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Turkey: 'Politically motivated' convictions of four human rights defenders quashed

© Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

After six years Amnesty Turkey’s founding members, Taner Kılıç and Idil Eser have convictions overturned

‘Today’s ruling revealed the true purpose of such politically motivated prosecutions: using the courts as a weapon to silence critical voices’ - Agnès Callamard

The decision by a Turkish court to overturn baseless convictions of Amnesty International Turkey’s Honorary Chair and three other human rights defenders is a huge relief, yet also highlights the politically motivated nature of the prosecutions, Amnesty International said today. 

The ruling on the convictions of Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun - four of 11 human rights defenders in the Büyükada case, who were convicted in July 2020 - comes exactly six years after Taner’s initial arrest which was followed by the arrests of the others just weeks later. 

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“Today’s ruling brings to an end a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. While we are hugely relieved that the convictions have finally been quashed, the fact that they were brought in the first place remains unconscionable.

“For six years, we have watched the wheels of injustice grind as the baseless claims levelled against these four brave human rights defenders have been accepted as fact by successive courts. Today’s ruling revealed the true purpose of such politically motivated prosecutions: using the courts as a weapon to silence critical voices.

“For Taner, Idil, Özlem and Günal, their ordeal may be over, but across Turkey many human rights defenders are languishing in jail, living in fear of arrest or facing similar unfounded prosecutions. 

“We will take strength from today’s victory, but we will continue to fight against the relentless curtailing of human rights in Turkey, and on behalf of those who refuse to be silenced by the government’s threats.” 

Founding members of Amnesty Turkey

Taner Kılıç and Özlem Dalkıran are both founding members of Amnesty Turkey. Over the last 20 years, they have played a crucial role in defending human rights as part of Amnesty and the wider human rights community in Turkey.  

Taner Kılıç, a refugee rights lawyer and Honorary Chair of Amnesty’s Turkey section, was arrested in June 2017 and detained in prison for more than 14 months. Despite a complete lack of evidence, in July 2020, he was convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and sentenced to six years and three months in prison. İdil, Özlem and Günal were all sentenced to 25 months for “assisting a terrorist organisation” and spent more than three months behind bars in 2017. 

At the time of her arrest in July 2017, Idil Eser was the Director of Amnesty International Turkey. Günal Kurşun, a lawyer, international criminal law expert and long-standing member of Amnesty International Turkey is a prominent human rights defender in the country. 


Taner Kılıç was alleged to have downloaded and used the ByLock messaging app, which the prosecution claimed was used for communication by the Gülen movement, a group blamed for organising an attempted coup in 2016.  

Two forensic analyses of Kılıç’s phone commissioned by Amnesty, however, found no trace of ByLock having ever been installed. In June 2018, any legitimacy of the prosecutor’s case was stripped away after the police submitted a report, which also found no evidence of ByLock on Kılıç’s phone. Downloading or using an app would not be sufficient evidence of alleged offences, as concluded in a recent European Court of Human Rights judgment concerning another applicant.   

İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun were among 10 people, dubbed the Istanbul 10, who were detained by police as they attended a workshop on well-being and digital security on 5 July 2017. 

On 4 October 2017, an Istanbul prosecutor filed an indictment against the Istanbul 10 and Taner Kılıç, who was allegedly aware of preparations for the workshop and in contact with two defendants. 

The trial and court hearings

At Taner Kılıç’s first trial hearing on 26 October, the judge accepted the prosecutor’s application to merge his case with that of the other ten, even though the accusations levelled against him had nothing to do with the workshop and the two cases were in no way connected. 

Over the course of 12 court hearings, every allegation levelled against the four human rights activists was repeatedly and comprehensively proven baseless, including in the state’s own police report. 

The acquittal of the four human rights defenders remains subject to an appeal by the prosecutor. 

European Court of Human Rights

In May last year, the European Court reaffirmed that the authorities in Turkey did not have “any reasonable suspicion that Taner Kılıç had committed an offence”. It also found that his incarceration on the second set of terrorism-related charges was “directly linked to his activity as a human rights defender”. 

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