The Observatory has been informed about the upcoming trial against and ongoing arbitrary detention of Mr Bilal Yıldız, a social worker at the Istanbul Representative Office of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı - TİHV-HRFT). As a social worker, Bilal Yıldız provides social assistance to torture survivors and their relatives, and facilitates their access to treatment, rehabilitation services and well-being activities. Mr Yıldız was one of the co-founders of the Migration Monitoring Association (Göç İzleme Derneği) in 2016.
On December 13, 14 and 15, 2022, Bilal Yıldız will appear before the İstanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court for the first hearing in his trial on the charge of “membership to an illegal armed organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Criminal Code of Turkey), which will last three days, in relation with his activities with HRFT and the Migration Monitoring Association. If convicted and sentenced, he faces between five and ten years of imprisonment. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Bilal Yıldız remained detained at Marmara No. 5 L-Type Closed Prison, in Istanbul Province.
In prison, Mr Yıldız has been kept in overcrowded cells that fail to comply with regional and international human rights standards. He has also witnessed acts of torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon other detainees. A letter he sent to HRFT requesting the organisation to take action on the acts of torture and ill-treatment against him and his co-accused since their arbitrary arrest was seized by the prison officers to avoid “causing panic and chaos between the inmates”, as justified by the prison authorities. This decision was later overturned by the execution judgeship, and the letter was delivered to HRFT.
The Observatory recalls that Bilal Yıldız has been arbitrarily detained since June 3, 2022 along with 16 individuals affiliated with the Migration Monitoring Association. On that day, the police raided the office of the Migration Monitoring Association in Istanbul and the homes of the association executives, and seized several books and reports published by the association as well as office computers. A total of 22 individuals affiliated with the Migration Monitoring Association, including Bilal Yıldız, were arbitrarily arrested and denied access to their lawyers for 24 hours. They were all questioned on both their personal finances and the association’s financial records, including questions on payments made to trainers and hotels as part of the association’s activities. On June 11, 2022, six of them were released under judicial control and the remaining 16 individuals, including Bilal Yıldız, were detained and sent to Bakırköy and Marmara prisons pending investigation, which remained subjected to a confidentiality order. On June 14, 2022, another individual affiliated with the Migration Monitoring Association was arbitrarily arrested in the same case.
On September 1, 2022, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office submitted the indictment before the Istanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court, and on September 16, 2022, Bilal Yıldız and the other 22 co-accused were charged with “membership to an illegal armed organisation”.
The indictment bill criminalises Bilal Yıldız’s legitimate and peaceful human rights activities as a HRFT member and founding member of the Migration Monitoring Association, including phone conversations with fellow social workers and HRFT members, referral of human trafficking cases to other human rights organisations, or several workshops organised by HRFT. Yet, the accusation does not include any causal link between Bilal Yıldız and the Migration Monitoring Association’s activities. Finally, the indictment also contains information about Bilal Yıldız’s personal bank transactions to his relatives, which are unrelated to both HRFT and the Migration Monitoring Association’s activities.
The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Bilal Yıldız on trumped-up charges, and notes with concern that these attacks against him, HRFT and the Migration Monitoring Association, not only punish him for his legitimate human rights activities, but severely hinder the access of dozens of torture and ill-treatment survivors to social support and rehabilitation.
The Observatory recalls that HRFT, its members and volunteers have consistently been targeted in retaliation for their work seeking justice and rehabilitation for torture and ill-treatment survivors, including through the misuse of counter-terrorism legislation against them. HRFT Board member Şebnem Korur Fincancı has been arbitrarily detained since October 26, 2022 on accusations of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. Physician and HRTF volunteer Şeyhmus Gökalp faced trumped-up terrorism charges for one year until his acquittal in November 2021, and HRFT Cizre representative and physician Serdar Küni was sentenced to four years and two months of imprisonment on the charge of “membership to a terrorist organisation” in November 2020.
The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release Bilal Yıldız, his co-accused, as well as Şebnem Korur Fincancı and all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country.
The Observatory further urges the authorities in Turkey to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Bilal Yıldız and his co-accused, as well as all members of HRFT and Migration Monitoring Association.
The Observatory more generally calls on the authorities to ensure that all human rights organisations and human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Turkey asking them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Bilal Yıldız, his co-accused as well as all human rights defenders in Turkey;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Bilal Yıldız, his co-accused and all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;
iii. Guarantee Bilal Yıldız and his co-accused’s rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in their case;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Bilal Yıldız, his co-accused and all other human rights defenders in Turkey, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Abolish Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3713 and review and reconsider the articles relating to counter-terrorism in the Criminal Code No. 5271, Criminal Procedure Law no. 9105 and other laws on the execution of sentences and security measures, to ensure they comply with Turkey’s international human rights obligations.
• President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Minister of Justice, Mr. Bekir Bozdağ. Email: email@example.com.
• Minister of Interior, Mr. Süleyman Soylu. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
• Ambassador Mr. Mehmet Kemal Bozay, Diplomatic Mission of Turkey to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
• Ambassador Mr. Sadık Arslan, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Turkey in your respective country.