UN Rapporteur Condemns Turkey’s Use of Anti-Terrorism Laws to Persecute Human Rights Defenders

06/11/2021 Turkey – In a June 9 statement, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor condemned Turkey’s use of anti-terrorism laws to unjustly detain and silence those working to protect human rights in the country. Turkey’s recent relapse into Ottoman-like oppression of minority groups and Islamic nationalism has included a crackdown on Turkish human rights activists. Lawlor stated that human rights lawyers, who represent human rights activists, victims of persecution and police violence, and political dissidents, are particularly vulnerable under Turkey’s discriminatory anti-terrorism laws.

Specifically, Lawlor expressed her concern for Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law as crucial pieces of legislation that have been used as justification for the conviction and long-term imprisonment of Turkish human rights defenders. These policies have expanded the ability of the Turkish government to violate freedom of expression, association, and the right to practice one’s profession. As a result of these laws, 14 Turkish human rights defenders are currently serving sentences of 10 years or more.

These activists and lawyers have been subject to severe violations of their human rights while incarcerated. For example, in August of 2020, human rights lawyer Ebru Timtik died in a Turkish high-security prison during a hunger strike while demanding fair trials for herself and nine other activists alongside her in custody. Further, some Turkish human rights defenders have been brutally tortured in prison, such as Oya Aslan, an activist for women’s rights, and others have been denied essential medical attention and care. The cruel treatment of these heroic workers has major implications on the fates of several human rights defenders, lawyers, and civil society members who are currently on trial for violating Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.

Sadly, the grave maltreatment of human rights workers in Turkey reflects the recent deterioration of human rights and religious freedom in the country under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While several other high-ranking UN officials have backed Lawlor’s condemnation, it remains to be seen whether Turkey will heed the urges of the international community.

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