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Read the Heartbreaking Accounts of Activists About to Go on Trial in Turkey

After more than 100 days of what many say is unlawful imprisonment, the first hearing in the trial of a group of activists is about to go down.

by Alice Rowsome
Oct 25 2017, 4:30pm

Image via Facebook

On July 5 at a routine digital security and information management workshop at a hotel in Büyükada, Istanbul, ten human rights defenders were detained. However, on October 8, the Turkish Chief Public Prosecutor's Office announced that is was seeking up to 15 years in jail for the activists, accusing them of being members of a terrorist organization.

"There has been a smear campaign against them, and we want to show the world who these human rights defenders truly are, the principles they stand for, from gender equality to minority rights, and inspire the world through their bravery," Fadi Quran from Avaaz -- the activist organization that seeks to empower "millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues" -- told VICE Impact.

After more than 100 days of imprisonment, the first hearing in their trial will be held on October 25 at Caglayan Justice Palace, Turkey.

"We have crossed a new threshold," Andrew Gardner, Amnesty's researcher said on Turkey. "Under the post-coup attempt crackdown, there has been a huge number of assaults on civil society, critical journalists and the political opposition. But this is a direct attack on the backbone of human rights."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the meeting was an attempt to prolong a failed military coup that sought to overthrow him in July 2016. But this couldn't be further from the truth. "They're a diverse crew who share the same principles of freedom and equality for all," Quran explained.

Let's meet the activists on trial.

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Özlem Dalkıran: Human rights activist, translator.

Dalkıran is a long-standing and prominent human rights campaigner. She co-founded Amnesty International in Turkey. She is also an active member of the Citizens' Assembly, an organization promoting peace, democracy and civil society throughout Europe and a translator and campaigner at Avaaz.

Dalkıran has fought for gender equality, minority rights, environmental rights, refugee rights and the right to assembly. In a letter from prison, she wrote, "This absurd situation we find ourselves in cannot compel me to give up the struggle for rights or doubt myself. […] We have never lost faith in ourselves, in what we do and in our struggle for human rights."

İdil Eser: Human rights activist, translator, humanitarian aid worker.

Eser is the Director of Amnesty International Turkey. And, similarly to Dalkıran, has held positions at a number of NGOs, including the Citizen's Assembly. In 2011 she offered psychological support to those who had suffered trauma caused by a series of deadly earthquakes in eastern Turkey.

With no close family members, she has not been able to receive visits (apart from her lawyers) during her imprisonment. From prison, she wrote: "I have not committed any crime other than defending human rights without looking at victims' identities. Everybody will need human rights, law and justice one day. I want to believe that before this surreal picture turns into a lynching atmosphere, the truth will come out, that law and justice will prevail and that I will continue my work where I left off." "I miss music, my cats, being with my friends and being at my work."

Günal Kurşun: Human rights lawyer, scholar, and father.

Kurşun is a scholar, a criminal and human rights lawyer, and the first Turkish lawyer to work on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Before his arrest, he had been advocating for Turkey's ratification of the Rome Statute that established the ICC, and had carried out civil society activities on hate crimes.

He is an Amnesty International Turkey activist and a member of the Human Rights Agenda Association. Prior to his dismissal (alongside thousands of others) following the coup, he worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Başkent University in Ankara.

"I believe in universal human rights and a working rule of law, with all my heart. I am against all coups. I believe that a government which came to power via elections should only leave power the same way. I have never been involved in an event which included violence, nor have I supported it. I have never been in a fight since my childhood and I have never borne arms. I am categorically and unconditionally against violence," Kurşun wrote from prison.

Veli Acu: Human rights activist, and is expecting a baby next month.

One of the youngest of the group, 29-year old Acu works for the Human Rights Agenda Association, for whom he monitors human rights violations throughout the country. He is also a member of Amnesty International and since May 2016, a Programme Associate of the UN World Food Programme.

"Thanks to this detention and these baseless accusations directed at me as a human rights activist and a humanitarian worker, I have now seen how right and needed our struggle is. Human rights for all now, without discrimination," Acu wrote from prison.

Nalan Erkem: Lawyer, human rights activist.

Erkem is a lawyer, with a focus on child and youth rights and has been campaigning to stop violence in juvenile detention centers. A member of the board of directors of the Izmir Bar Association, between 2002-2004, Erkem worked on the project 'The Role of Lawyers in the Prevention of Torture'. She has also helped monitor human rights in psychiatric hospitals and worked on the 'Don't Remain Silent to Torture Project', which focused on stopping violence against women.

Although Nalan has spent her life fighting for the rights of those in jail, she was recently treated for gastrointestinal bleeding while in handcuffs.

İlknur Üstün: Women rights activist, author.

The head Ankara KADER (Women's Association), the Turkish coordinator for the European Women's Lobby, the Coordinator of the Women's Coalition and a researcher on gender and local politics, Üstün has been fighting for women's rights in Turkey for decades. She is the author of a number of books on the subject, from 'Try that Perspective: Gender Inequality Is Not a 'Women's Issue', It Is a Social Issue,' to 'Gender Equality: Are We Able To Take It Into Account?'

"We want women to be lifted from poverty and deprivation. We want them to have access to education and not to be subjected to abuse or rape. If that is a crime, then we are guilty, but it is a crime we will continue to commit," wrote Üstün while in prison.

Şeyhmus Özbekli: Graduate lawyer, human rights activist.

The youngest of the group, 24-year old Özbekli has been campaigning with Mazlumder, a human rights organization and recently, he became involved in the Rights Initiative, established by activists from Mazlumder. But not only. He also works in the Human Rights Unit of Diyarbakır Bar Association and for Citizen's Assembly.

Nejat Taştan: Human rights activists

Taştan has fought for many rights and freedoms, from race, to ethnicity, religion and belief, disability rights, for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to a fair trial.

He is a founding member of the Board of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and on the board of the Human Rights Association. But not only, within the framework of the Independent Election Monitoring Platform, he has played an active role in monitoring every election in Turkey since 2011 and has coordinated, since 2010, the Equal Rights Watch Association, of which he is a founding member. Although released on probation, he will also face trial on October 25.

Ali Gharavi: Non-violence and wellbeing trainer.

Gharavi is an IT expert, with a focus on human rights. He helped coordinate the International Symposium on New Tactics for Human Rights Struggle 10, which was held in Ankara in 2004 with the cooperation of the Center for Victims of Torture and Citizens' Assembly. He has helped promote human rights from Mexico to Pakistan to Turkey. He is a Swedish citizen of Iranian origin.

Peter Steudtner: Filmmaker, human rights activists, trainer.

A coach, a photographer, a documentary filmmaker, Steudtner moved to Mozambique to work on the psychosocial reintegration of child soldiers. As a trainer on non-violence, with a focus on the 'do-no-harm' approach, anti-discrimination work and the processing of trauma and stress in conflicts, he works in Germany for the Center for Training and Networking on Non-violent Action 'Kurve Wustrow' in Wendland; Bread for the World Development Service and the Union for Nonviolence. Since 2011 he has led international trainings on non-violence at Kurve Wustrow, alongside trainers from South Africa and Nepal.

"Thus I can say that externally, and mostly also internally, I am doing fine. However, this is also hard work, our detention is a clear violation of international human rights law and the extreme limitation on communication is hard: once a week for 1 hour with our great lawyers, and only 10 minutes every other week by phone with our families", he wrote in a letter from prison.

VICE Impact has been informed that the human rights defenders' hearing will be at the Caglayan Justice Palace , in Turkey, on October 25 at 10 am. By sharing the profiles of these activists, you can fight back, ahead of the critical and decisive trial. You can also sign this petition or get in touch with the Turkish embassy in your country to call for the activists' release.