The Observatory has been informed about the violations of the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees of Mr Bilal Yıldız, who has been arbitrarily detained since June 2022. Bilal Yıldız is a social worker at the Istanbul Representative Office of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı - TİHV-HRFT). He 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 appeared before the court along with 22 individuals and members of the Migration Monitoring Association for the first hearing in their trial on the charge of “membership to an illegal armed organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Criminal Code of Turkey). Throughout the three days, the defendants’ rights to a fair trial and due process guarantees were infringed by the panel of judges hearing the case.
On December 13, 2022, after the first defendant had delivered his statement before the İstanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court, the panel of judges announced the trial would be moved to and heard at the Silivri Courthouse, which is located at a distance of approximatively 80 km from the İstanbul Courthouse. The grounds of this decision were the lack of space in any courtroom at the İstanbul Courthouse. This relocation hindered the attendance of international observers at the first hearing of the trial.
The hearing was resumed on the day after, December 14, at the Silivri Courthouse. The second defendant was interrupted by the president of the panel of judges while she was delivering her defence statement on the grounds that she had allegedly exceeded the time she had been allocated. The defendant’s legal representatives objected to this interruption, alleging that the right of defence should not be time limited. The judge overruled the lawyers’ objection, turned off their microphones, left the courtroom, and subsequently ordered to move the trial to yet another courtroom in Silivri Courthouse. The panel of judges failed to provide any reasons for this change, and the lawyers were denied access to the new courtroom. The defendants refused to deliver their statements without the presence of their legal representatives.
On the third day of the hearing, December 15, the lawyers requested time for the interrupted defendant to give her statement. This request was again overruled by the president of the panel of judges, and as the lawyers protested the decision, the judge reminded law enforcement officers present in the courtroom to make use of their force in case of need. The judge subsequently threatened these law enforcement officers with proceedings against them should they fail to carry out their duties. The lawyers were subsequently taken out of the courtroom, and the defendants refused to give their statements.
Four co-defendants were released pending trial, including two individuals facing severe health issues, and the only two persons who had delivered their defence statements. Bilal Yıldız was not allocated time to give his statement, and at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, remained detained in Marmara No. 5 L-Type Closed Prison, in İstanbul Province.
The next hearing in this case has been scheduled for January 4 and 5, 2023 in Silivri Courthouse.
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 urges the authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release Bilal Yıldız and his co-accused, drop all charges against them, and to guarantee their rights to a fair trial and due process as long as the criminal process against them is ongoing.
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 the 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:
- 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;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Bilal Yıldız, his co-accused and all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;
- Guarantee Bilal Yıldız and his co-accused’s rights to due process and fair trial during the judicial proceedings in their case;
- 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;
- 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.