IHD co-chair faces two decades in prison

The IHD co-chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan is facing trial for statements on the Kurdish question and the genocide of the Armenian nation. Three cases have been opened against the 52-year-old, who faces more than two decades in prison.

Kurdish human rights activist Öztürk Türkdoğan is facing a long prison sentence in Turkey. No less than three cases have been brought against the co-chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), and in all cases the indictments have already been accepted by the competent courts. The charges are serious and range from alleged membership of an armed terrorist organisation, public denigration of Turkishness to insulting a public official. If all three trials end in conviction, Türkdoğan could spend more than two decades behind bars.

The cases against Türkdoğan mark one of the most intractable human rights problems in Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rule and reflect, picture-perfectly, the erosion of justice in the Turkish judiciary; the denial of freedom of thought and the suppression of freedom of expression. The most serious charge against the 52-year-old, who has co-directed the IHD since 2008 and is one of the co-founders of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, is probably that of alleged membership of a "terrorist group fighting with armed force". According to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, Türkdoğan acted "in accordance with the instructions" of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). The basis for this is dissenting opinions on so-called taboo topics, such as criticism of the grave human rights situation in the country - including that in the prisons and especially on the prison island of Imrali, where PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan has been held in aggravated solitary confinement for years.

Naming massacre of prisoners of war

In particular, however, the prosecution is dedicated to the IHD chairman's demand for an independent and impartial investigation into the deaths of thirteen PKK prisoners of war killed by the Turkish army during the four-day invasion of Gare in February 2021. Türkdoğan described the incident as a war crime and massacre and called for the establishment of an investigation committee. He also reprimanded the government for the fact that several initiatives of the IHD for the release of the killed prisoners of war had fallen on deaf ears in Ankara for years. Shortly afterwards, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu verbally attacked the entire IHD board in a parliamentary statement and wished them dead. As a result, Öztürk Türkdoğan was temporarily arrested and banned from leaving the country.

Up to 15 years imprisonment demanded

If convicted in these proceedings, the human rights activist could face up to fifteen years imprisonment. The charge is based on Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code, which provides for a punishment of between a minimum of five and a maximum of ten years. However, in conjunction with the anti-terror legislation, the sentence is increased by half. The trial will begin on 22 February and will be heard at the 19th Grand Criminal Chamber in Ankara. The IHD calls on the public to observe the trial in solidarity.

Proceedings based on Article 301

The second case against Türkdoğan was opened on the basis of section 301. This is probably the best-known Turkish law in Europe. Until 2008, the article still regulated the "insulting of Turkishness", but under pressure from the EU, the law was reformed. The outdated version states: "Whoever publicly disparages the Turkish nation, the state of the Turkish Republic, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the government of the Turkish Republic and the state judicial organs shall be sentenced from six months to two years in prison."

Call for an end to genocide denial

The subject of these proceedings is, among other things, a statement entitled "For Justice and Truth - End the Denial of the Genocide of the Armenian People", which was published on the IHD website on 24 April 2017 on the occasion of Genocide Memorial Day. In the appeal, the human rights association names the crimes against the Armenian nation in the Ottoman Empire, to which around 1.5 million people fell victim, essentially between 1915 and 1917, and demands recognition and coming to terms with the first systematic genocide in the 20th century, which Turkey still does not admit to today and cynically tries to relativise in its historiography as a "war-related security measure". According to the responsible public prosecutor's office, this statement constitutes a criminal offence of "public denigration of the Turkish nation and the Turkish state".

The indictment in these proceedings has been accepted by the 24th Criminal Chamber of the Ankara Regional Court. The court has not yet set a date for the start of the trial.

Alleged insult to the Minister of the Interior

The third case against Öztürk Türkdoğan deals with an alleged insult to the Minister of the Interior. The indictment refers to a statement made by the IHD on 29 June 2018, which contains sharp criticism of statements made by Soylu in the run-up to the parliamentary election that had taken place shortly before. In it, Soylu is accused of publicly defaming and slandering as "terrorists" a number of people who criticise the state or express a different opinion than the official one on sensitive issues or call for the punishment of human rights violations by state authorities. In addition to the HDP politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been imprisoned since the end of 2016, the Minister of the Interior also accused various NGOs and professional associations such as the IHD, the Bar Association and Medical Association in Amed (tr. Diyarbakir) as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of terror. The AKP politician had even issued death threats against the HDP chairperson Pervin Buldan.

The IHD stated: "If the Minister of Interior of Turkey, instead of doing justice to his office, behaves like the leader of a criminal organisation, expresses himself accordingly, makes himself punishable by permanent threats and corresponding charges against him come to nothing, this means that the right to life, integrity and security in this country has been completely undermined. We are at a point where prosecutors are acting as protectors of such people. Therefore, there is no longer any question of justice in Turkey."

The basis of this charge against Türkdoğan is Article 125/3 of the Turkish Penal Code, according to which the dignity, honour or reputation of a public official may not be attacked by insult. Because the alleged insult was directed at a member of parliament and was committed in public, the human rights activist faces up to four years in prison if convicted. The trial in this case has been scheduled to begin on 18 February. The trial will be held at the 60th Criminal Chamber of the Ankara District Court.