İHD chair Öztürk Türkdoğan on trial says gov't trying to criminalize human rights activism

In the first hearing of the “terrorism” case against him, İHD co-chair Öztürk Türkdoğan has said that the government was trying to criminalize human rights activism. “Call for peace is a matter of human rights and we defend this right. Our works for the right of peace will always continue,” he said.

Duvar English

A Turkish court on Feb. 22 held the first hearing in the trial of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD) who is facing baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” for public statements he made in relation to his association’s human rights work.

In his defense at the Ankara 19th Heavy Penal Court, Türkdoğan said that the “human rights activism was trying to be criminalized,” according to reporting by daily Cumhuriyet. 

“Call for peace is a matter of human rights and we defend this right. Our works for the right of peace will always continue. I know that human rights defenders are both here and in the world, and that we will overcome this period,” Türkdoğan said.

Lawyer Eren Keskin also took the stage during the hearing saying that the state keeps changing its policies and that it expects human rights activists to align with them. “They expect us to keep in step with them, to change. We are human rights defenders; we do not change. When [President] Tayyip Erdoğan was jailed [in 1998 for reciting an allegedly incendiary poem], we had also released a statement that day in front of the prison because we do not choose the victim,” Keskin said.

“When a person's rights are being violated, it is our duty and responsibility to defend that right. It is human rights defenders who are being prosecuted in this trial,” she said.

The court extended Türkdoğan's international travel ban and adjourned the trial to April 19.

In December 2021, the Turkish authorities initiated three separate prosecutions against Türkdoğan.

He was tried under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code allegedly for “insulting” a public official in a statement published on the IHD website on 29 June 2018. The first hearing of this prosecution, in which Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu is the alleged victim, was held on Feb. 18. The next hearing will be held on May 11.

He was also charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the penal code after the authorities detained him and searched his home on March 19, 2021. During the search, his phone and laptop were confiscated.

The evidence in the indictment charging Türkdoğan with “membership in a terrorist organization,” the most serious charge he faces, consists of his speeches, statements and conversations. 

It cites statements made in broadcasts in Kurdish media outlets, including in which he calls for the end of the prolonged solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The indictment also cites three photographs found on Türkdoğan’s laptop showing banners prepared by the Human Rights Association.