MORE PRESSING THAN EVER: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN TURKEY

MORE PRESSING THAN EVER: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN TURKEY

HRW Turkey Director Sinclair-Webb: The state in Turkey is much more interested in undermining the activities of human rights defenders and actually questioning the very principles on which they work by bringing in this label of terrorism at every opportunity."

“Human Rights Podcast: Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Rights Defenders in Turkey”, a new podcast series by the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, the Truth Justice and Memory Center, and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, and in collaboration with Kisa Dalga Medya is launched.

In the third episode, “More Pressing Than Ever: Human Rights Defenders in Turkey”, moderator Beril Eski and Human Rights Watch Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb guided listeners through the situation of human rights defenders in Turkey.

Sinclair-Webb said that the state is responsible for protecting human rights defenders while it's mostly the state that doesn't protect them. "I think it's absolutely evident over the last few years in Turkey that it's become a really pressing problem,” she added.

Sinclair-Webb highlighted a pattern in Turkey where the president and the senior officials often speak out publicly against people that they don't like:

“Then is followed by either an arrest or some prosecution. The state in Turkey is much more interested in undermining the activities of human rights defenders and actually questioning the very principles on which they work by bringing in this label of terrorism at every opportunity."

Saying that many human rights defenders had to leave the country to avoid threats against them, Sinclair-Webb stated that this basically stopped human rights from doing their work:

“That's a really tragic thing that people feel they have to leave their country because they have been put through this incredibly abusive process which has basically stopped them in their tracks, from doing their human rights work, their activism, their peaceful work which is actually all about trying to promote greater rights for citizens of Turkey."

Sinclair-Webb explained the judiciary’s approach towards prominent human rights defenders in Turkey, stated that the judiciary is considering human rights activities as “suspicioys”, and convicting the rights defenders based on the argument that “the human rights are very often used as a screen for other nefarious activities and particularly terrorism.” 

“You find yourself in your own country, described as a traitor and stigmatized, ostracized and really forced out of your activities and even feeling you have to leave the country. The threat of the possibility of going back to prison has for many people being just too much,” she added.

Saying that while Kurdish rights defenders are targeted with the charge of membership to a terrorist organization and get associated completely wrongly with the PKK, Sinclair-Webb said indicated that the Turkish human rights defenders might not get that charge, but could still get the terrorism charge, including a charge of contact with Gulenists or left-wing groups:

“In a very polarized political context, where there's a lot of demonization of political enemies in the country, it's hard to do that without also being accused yourself of associated with the groups whose rights you appear to be defending.” 

Despite all the threats, Sinclair-Webb said that there is still a very dynamic society and a successful new media that keeps going through this climate of fear in Turkey:

“So you have all those aspects, but you have a very dynamic society. You have a political opposition, and you have the ability of the society to renew itself. And I think we see this very much in the media. The creation of new media has been very successful in the Turkish case. The traditional newspapers, controlled by the government, but who cares? No one reads them. But we've got this dynamic online media, using social media very vibrantly, and human rights groups and civil society groups that are also responding to the challenges and keeping alive issues. Yes, terrible things are happening. People are in prison. Endless prosecutions are going on, but I think the fear is somehow gone and the society is keeping going through this period.”