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Human Rights Watch has called on Turkey to reverse the convictions of four human rights defenders, saying that the sentences given to them are politically motivated.

An Istanbul court on July 3 sentenced four rights defenders to prison during a hearing at the Çağlayan Courthouse of the Büyükada case.

The court sentenced Amnesty International Turkey’s Honorary Chair Taner Kılıç to six years and three months in prison over “terrorist organization membership.”

Günal Kuşun, İdil Eser and Özlem Dalkıran were handed one year and 13 months jail terms each over “aiding a terrorist organization.”

Nalan Erkem, lknur Üstün, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Veli Acu, Nejat Taştan and Şeyhmus Özbekli were acquitted.

‘Politically motivated’

“The conviction of four human rights defenders without evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, is politically motivated and an effort to stifle the legitimate work of Turkey’s human rights movement,” the HRW said on July 6.

“In three years the police and prosecutors have produced not a shred of evidence of criminal activity by any of the 11 rights defenders who stood trial,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Four have been convicted for their legitimate human rights work in another trial which demonstrates how any independence in Turkey’s justice system has collapsed under political pressure.”

A total of 11 rights defenders were being tried in the Büyükada Case, including Kılıç and its former executive director İdil Eser, on various charges, including “being a member of an armed terrorist organization” and “aiding armed terrorist organizations.”

They were detained in 2017 while they were attending a human rights workshop on Büyükada, an island near Istanbul.

After more than 14 months in prison, Kılıç was released on bail in August 2018. Eight of the others, including two foreign nationals, spent almost four months each behind bars before they were released in October 2017.

Human Rights Watch said that the ruling of July 3 cited no grounds for the convictions, adding that it is awaiting the court’s full reasoned decision.

“The court’s verdict convicts four people but is an attack on the entire human rights movement in Turkey,” Williamson said.

“We hope the higher courts will do their duty and reverse this miscarriage of justice.”