Turkey convicts human rights activists for terrorism

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Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary president Taner Kilic was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for being a member of a terrorist organization, while former group director İdil Eser was sentenced to two years and a month for helping a terrorist organization.

Amnesty members Günal Kursun and Özlem Dalgiran were also sentenced to two years and one month in prison for helping a terrorist group.

The human rights group denies all of the accusations and said that each allegation against its members was “completely exposed as a baseless insult”.

Seven other accused were acquitted. The 11 human rights activists were arrested and charged in the summer of 2017 for terrorism.

The accused have the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal, which Amnesty Turkey tweeted that they would use. “As we said before the trial, we will not accept that one of our friends is convicted. We will continue to follow the case before the superior courts, ”he added.The four activists will not be imprisoned pending their appeals. The appeal process could take months or years.

Andrew Gardner of Amnesty International said in a statement: “Today we witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. This verdict is a blow not only for Taner, Özlem, İdil and Günal and their families, but for all those who believe in justice and human rights activism in Turkey and beyond. ”

“The court decision is staggering. During 12 hearings, each allegation was presented as a baseless insult. The court verdict defies logic and exposes the three-year trial as the politically motivated attempt to silence the independent voices that it was “from day one,” added Gardner.

The group’s most prominent member, Kilic, has been accused by the prosecutor of being a member of the cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network, which the Turkish government considers to be a terrorist organization.

Kilic denies being a member of the organization, led by the American preacher Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of having organized the 2016 coup attempt in which around 250 people died.

Kilic was also charged with downloading a messaging application called ByLock used by the organization, which he denies.

The other 10 accused, including the former director of Amnesty International Turkey, Eser, were arrested separately at a hotel on the island of Büyükada, off the coast of Istanbul, where they attended a workshop on digital security.

They were accused of participating in a secret meeting, chaired by Kilic, in a case locally dubbed the “Büyükada trial,” according to Amnesty International.

According to Human Rights Watch, “accusations of terrorism have continued to be widely used” since the failed coup attempt and numerous terrorism trials in Turkey “without convincing evidence of criminal activity”.

The practice of keeping individuals accused of terrorist offenses in pre-trial detention “has raised concerns about its use has become a form of summary punishment,” the report said.

Anti-government protesters display the Turkish national flag in Gezi Park in June 2013.

This is the second recent Turkish court case involving prominent human rights activists, highlighting the continued detention of activists in the country more than three years after the 2016 coup attempt.

The verdict comes just months after prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala had a brief glimpse of freedom when he was acquitted in 2013 during protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park – and a few hours later arrested again for alleged links to the coup.

Kavala was one of many activists acquitted for their involvement in the Gezi Park protests seven years ago, which began on a plan to turn a small park in central Istanbul into a shopping center. The protests quickly turned into larger anti-government rallies across Turkey.

But the celebrations of the acquitted activists were short-lived, after prosecutors announced that Kavala would remain in detention.

Milena Buyum, Amnesty International activist for Turkey, said in a statement that the decision gave the impression of “deliberate and calculated cruelty”.

Isil Sariyuce reported from Istanbul. CNN’s Sheena McKenzie and Emma Reynolds wrote in London. CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh and Yusuf Gezer contributed to this report

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