Journalists and human rights activists are being unlawfully held in Turkish prisons, says Stefan Simanowitz, Amnesty International’s Media Manager for Europe, Turkey and the Balkans.
A month ago, Hatice Kilic and her three daughters waited outside Sakran Prison in Izmir beneath a dark sky. The temperature was close to freezing but they did not feel the cold. All their attention was focused on those metal gates and how they would soon roll open and Taner Kilic — husband and father — would walk through them and into their arms.
Earlier that day, the Istanbul trial court had ruled to conditionally release Taner Kilic, a lawyer and chair of Amnesty International Turkey who has been held, detained on terrorism charges, since last June. His wife and children had come to the prison to pick him up in a state of elated expectation.
Just after midnight, the prison gates opened and Taner Kilic was driven out in a police car. But he was not a free man. Instead of being released he was driven past his family to a military prison where he was locked in another cell. Unbeknownst to the welcoming party, the prosecutor had appealed the court’s decision to release him and a second court in Istanbul accepted this appeal.
Kilic has committed no crime. He is charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” based on the false allegation that he downloaded ByLock, a messaging application authorities say was used by those who organized the 2016 coup attempt. But after nearly nine months behind bars, no credible evidence has been presented to substantiate this claim. On the contrary, two independent forensic experts found that there was no trace of ByLock ever having been on his phone. But if he is found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in jail.
In December, authorities admitted mistakes were made in the cases of thousands of people who have been detained for supposedly downloading the Bylock app. They published lists containing the details of more than 11,400 mobile phone users clearing them of the alleged wrongdoing. This resulted in a mass release of prisoners. Unfortunately, Taner was not one of them.
Kilic has become a potent symbol of the thousands of people unjustly jailed as part of the crackdown that has gripped Turkey since the failed coup in 2016.
Two weeks ago, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilicak became the first Turkish journalists to be convicted of involvement in the coup attempt. They received aggravated life sentences for “attempting to overthrow the government” merely for doing their work as journalists.
The bitter irony of being found guilty of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” will not be lost on Mehmet Altan whose release was ordered just last month by Turkey’s Constitutional Court, ruling that his detention violated his constitutional rights such as the right to liberty, security and to freedom of expression. The trial court refused to implement the ruling, flouting the constitution.