AFP | Published: 31 January, 2018
Activists gathered at the Istanbul courthouse gathered in support of Kilic AFP / YASIN AKGUL
An Istanbul court on Wednesday ordered the release of the head of rights group Amnesty International in Turkey, who had been held on terror charges that his supporters long dismissed as “baseless”.
The decision to release Taner Kilic under judicial control was met with thunderous applause. His friends wept and hugged other activists who attended the hearing, an AFP correspondent in the courtroom reported.
Kilic, who had been arrested along with 10 other rights activists, was being tried on terror charges that Amnesty branded “baseless allegations”.
“It is an enormous relief that Taner will soon be back with his wife and daughters, sleeping in his own bed for the first time in almost eight months,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s Europe director.
Kilic was detained in June 2017, suspected of membership of the group led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a July 2016 coup bid — a charge the cleric denies.
The other 10 activists, including a German and a Swede, were released last year, though their trial continues.
They had been detained following a raid on a digital information workshop that they were holding on an island off Istanbul, accused of links to Gulen and other outlawed groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the state.
– ‘Good sign’ for activists –
Kilic, who has been held in Izmir in western Turkey, appeared in court via videolink. He insisted he had proven his innocence through reports presented to the court.
Authorities accused Kilic of having an encrypted messaging application on his phone in August 2014 called ByLock, which Ankara claims was especially created for Gulen supporters.
Kilic has categorically denied having the app, while Amnesty says two independent forensic analyses that they commissioned found that there was no trace of ByLock ever having been on his phone.
Ahead of the verdict, a group of around 30 human rights activists gathered outside the Istanbul court, unfurling banners that read: “Justice for rights defenders” and “#Free Taner.”
Ozlem Dalkiran of Avaaz and Citizens’ Assembly — one of the activists also on trial — said she was “very happy”.
“It is a positive development and hope it will be good sign for other human rights cases,” she told AFP after the verdict was delivered, adding: “The next step is acquittal.”
– ‘Not unique’-
Amnesty’s Gulik said it would be a “brief moment to celebrate” but said “tomorrow we will continue our struggle to have all charges dropped against Taner, the Istanbul 10, and all other innocent victims wrongfully caught up in this vicious crackdown”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously said that the activists were detained for working against the government — likening them to those involved in the attempted coup.
Activists carried placards that read “#FreeTaner” AFP / YASIN AKGUL
The next hearing will be on June 21.
The case sparked major concerns over the state of free speech in Turkey, which is still under the state of emergency following the failed coup.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested and 140,000 public sector workers sacked or suspected in its aftermath.
Amnesty’s researcher on Turkey, Andrew Gardner, said ahead of the verdict that the human rights environment “continues to be as bad or worse than before” and that Kilic’s case was “not unique.”
“Human rights defenders are on trial in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul and elsewhere,” he told AFP.
“The overall environment is of course very negative and in these cases it is very hard to believe that a fair trial will be respected.”