Eleven Human Rights Defenders are waiting for court verdicts to be announced this Friday, July 3, in Istanbul. It’s a well-known case, known usually as the Buyukada Case. The defenders face jail terms in Turkey of up to 15 years each.
They were arrested three years ago and spent months in prison before being released, and are facing terrorism-related charges. One of the Human Rights Defenders on trial is Özlem Dalkıran.
“What must happen on Friday is aquittal for all of us,” she said. “There is absolutely no evidence that would remotely suggest that any of us have any association with any illegal armed groups or ‘terrorism’. But since day one the pro-government media and government authorities rushed to target and smear us as spies and coup-plotters.”
The prosecutor has requested acquittal for five of the 11, and convictions for the remaining six. This does’t mean that the judge will follow this recommendation, and all are still at risk.
The ongoing trial has weighed heavily on the defendants. “On one hand, you want it to be over,” said Dalkıran. “You want to be able to make plans for the future. The wait, the limbo wears you out. On the other hand, you want it to continue as it is, with the unfounded hope that the political atmosphere may turn for the better.”
Many Human Rights Defenders know the pressures of being putting on trial for their work, and how it affects people around the defender. “Since the beginning I was worried more for my family than myself,” she said. “As an activist, I am aware of the risks of working for human rights, of speaking out. Voicing dissent is dangerous in Turkey. We all know that and we are ready to face the consequences. My family also knew that but I think they never really thought that it would actually happen. They try to stand strong but I know they are very worried. So that makes me worried.”
The case has attracted worldwide attention, with literally millions of people calling for justice for the 11. “In our case, the joint statement from the UN special rapporteurs during the early days of our arrest had a great impact,” she said. “Having monitors from embassies, an EU delegation, MPs, NGOs in the courtroom can also be very effective. I think it forces the judges to ‘behave,’ but with a country like Turkey, we never know what really works.”
It’s unclear exactly what will happen on Friday, and how many people the judge will allow into the courtroom because of COVID-19, so it’s possible there will be no live tweeting and the defendants will have to wait to hear from their lawyers. Dalkıran says she will be at home, waiting for news. "I expect the court to last until the afternoon. So I guess I will know the verdict before 5pm. Even if the verdict isn’t an acquittal for us all, we will still hold our heads high, knowing we are right and they are wrong.”