18 Months in Prison for Prominent Turkish Human Rights Defender Murat Çelikkan

Murat Celikkan
Murat Çelikkan Co-Director of of Hafiza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Centre. Photo: Markus Junghard.

Prominent Turkish human rights defender and Co-Director of Hafiza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Centre), Murat Çelikkan was charged on 16 May under “terror organisation propaganda” and sentenced by summary judgement to 18 months in prison. The hearing was held at the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court under the Anti-Terror Law Article 7/2. The Courts did not reduce or defer his sentence as they ruled that “The defendant did not show sufficient remorse with his attitudes in the trial”.

Murat Çelikkan sentence is as a result of his actions as a symbolic Co-Editor for the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. He was part of the Editor-in-Chief on Watch campaign that was launched on 3 May 2016 involving 55 other civil society members who on a daily rotating basis took turns to act as Editor-in-Chief in support of the daily, but Murat Çelikkan was the only one sentenced.

In February 2017, Civil Rights Defenders hosted a seminar highlighting the stark deterioration of human rights in Turkey since the botched Coup d’état of July 2016. The seminar was presented in Stockholm by both Murat Çelikkan and fellow Co-director Meltem Aslan regarding the demise of freedom of expression in Turkey and how the noose is tightening around civil society as the government launches purge after purge against journalists, the judiciary and academicians.

”There had been times in the history of the Turkish Republic when a witch hunt against journalists,human rights defenders and academicians have taken place. During the 1950’s and during the Coup d’états’ of 1971 and 1980. We had an attempted Coup d’état this time, which the government prevented. But the policies of the government against civil society after the July coup attempt is incomparable with the successful coups,” said Murat Çelikkan, Co-director of Hafiza Merkezin (Truth Justice Memory Centre).

The Kurdish community has especially been subjected to the wrath of Erdogan’s decrees and crackdowns. In the middle of March 2017, the Turkish government jailed 13 members of the pro-Kurdish democratic opposition in Parliament and has forcibly taken control of 82 municipalities in the south east of the country, suspending and imprisoning elected mayors.

The government has used its powers to take direct control of Kurdish municipalities and has removed elected mayors often using trumped up charges under “the suspicion of terrorism” to justify their rout replacing the ejected officials with government appointed bureaucrats. Civil society activists, journalists and lawyers who have been associated with Kurdish human rights organisations have been imprisoned or harassed.

Since the failed Coup d’état, the Turkish Government has taken drastic measures to control civil society declaring one state of emergency after the other. Under the Turkish constitution, the statute of limitations for such an action is only three months but article 120 which was approved by the General Assembly on 21 July 2016 states

Article 120 states that in the event of serious indications of widespread acts of violence aimed at the destruction of the free democratic order established by the Constitution or of fundamental rights and freedoms, or serious deterioration of public order because of acts of violence, the Council of Ministers, meeting under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic, after consultation with the National Security Council, may declare a state of emergency in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months”

As a result, the Turkish Government has prolonged this state of emergency a further three times in October 2016, January 2017 and April 2017 with no indication as to when these extreme measures will come to an end, further cementing Erdogan’s powers and oppression over all aspects of society in Turkey especially when it comes to freedom of expression.

Turkish President, Recep Tayip Erdogan has engaged in the widespread purging of all opposition to his rule while at the same time waging a war against independent media through physical assaults, arrests and intimidation of journalists, while media outlets are consistently subjected to censorship. It is therefore, of no surprise today that Turkey is now the single largest jailor of journalists in the world with arrest warrants still in place for scores of journalists, many of whom have been forced into exile. Murat Çelikkan is now one of the latest to be indicted with many more being investigated for supporting pro-Kurdish media outlets and human rights organisations.

Civil Rights Defenders condemns the ongoing politically motivated purges against civil society and calls on the government of Turkey to:

  • Immediately clear Murat Çelikkan of all charges levied against him and that he receives a free and fair trial;
  • Immediately and unconditionally cease the widespread persecution and incarceration of journalists;
  • Put an end to the current state of emergency and reinstate all those dismissed from their positions across the media, civil society and the judiciary;
  • Immediately honour its obligations under the various human rights treaties that it is party to, especially when it comes to freedom of expression, assembly and association.