The Observatory has been informed about the violations of the right to a fair trial and due process guarantees of Mr Bilal Yıldız,
who has been arbitrarily detained since June 2022. Bilal Yıldız is a
social worker at the Istanbul Representative Office of the Human Rights
Foundation of Turkey (Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı - TİHV-HRFT).
He provides social assistance to torture survivors and their relatives,
and facilitates their access to treatment, rehabilitation services and
well-being activities. Mr Yıldız was one of the co-founders of the
Migration Monitoring Association (Göç İzleme Derneği) in 2016.
On December 13, 14 and 15, 2022,
Bilal Yıldız appeared before the court along with 22 individuals and
members of the Migration Monitoring Association for the first hearing in
their trial on the charge of “membership to an illegal armed
organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Criminal Code of Turkey). Throughout
the three days, the defendants’ rights to a fair trial and due process
guarantees were infringed by the panel of judges hearing the case.
On December 13, 2022, after the
first defendant had delivered his statement before the İstanbul 26th
Heavy Penal Court, the panel of judges announced the trial would be
moved to and heard at the Silivri Courthouse, which is located at a
distance of approximatively 80 km from the İstanbul Courthouse. The
grounds of this decision were the lack of space in any courtroom at the
İstanbul Courthouse. This relocation hindered the attendance of
international observers at the first hearing of the trial.
The hearing was resumed on the day
after, December 14, at the Silivri Courthouse. The second defendant was
interrupted by the president of the panel of judges while she was
delivering her defence statement on the grounds that she had allegedly
exceeded the time she had been allocated. The defendant’s legal
representatives objected to this interruption, alleging that the right
of defence should not be time limited. The judge overruled the lawyers’
objection, turned off their microphones, left the courtroom, and
subsequently ordered to move the trial to yet another courtroom in
Silivri Courthouse. The panel of judges failed to provide any reasons
for this change, and the lawyers were denied access to the new
courtroom. The defendants refused to deliver their statements without
the presence of their legal representatives.
On the third day of the hearing,
December 15, the lawyers requested time for the interrupted defendant to
give her statement. This request was again overruled by the president
of the panel of judges, and as the lawyers protested the decision, the
judge reminded law enforcement officers present in the courtroom to make
use of their force in case of need. The judge subsequently threatened
these law enforcement officers with proceedings against them should they
fail to carry out their duties. The lawyers were subsequently taken out
of the courtroom, and the defendants refused to give their statements.
Four co-defendants were released
pending trial, including two individuals facing severe health issues,
and the only two persons who had delivered their defence statements.
Bilal Yıldız was not allocated time to give his statement, and at the
time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, remained detained in Marmara
No. 5 L-Type Closed Prison, in İstanbul Province.
The next hearing in this case has been scheduled for January 4 and 5, 2023 in Silivri Courthouse.
The Observatory recalls that Bilal Yıldız has been arbitrarily detained since June 3, 2022
along with 16 individuals affiliated with the Migration Monitoring
Association. On that day, the police raided the office of the Migration
Monitoring Association in Istanbul and the homes of the association
executives, and seized several books and reports published by the
association as well as office computers. A total of 22 individuals
affiliated with the Migration Monitoring Association, including Bilal
Yıldız, were arbitrarily arrested and denied access to their lawyers for
24 hours. They were all questioned on both their personal finances and
the association’s financial records, including questions on payments
made to trainers and hotels as part of the association’s activities. On
June 11, 2022, six of them were released under judicial control and the
remaining 16 individuals, including Bilal Yıldız, were detained and sent
to Bakırköy and Marmara prisons pending investigation, which remained
subjected to a confidentiality order. On June 14, 2022, another
individual affiliated with the Migration Monitoring Association was
arbitrarily arrested in the same case.
On September 1, 2022, the Istanbul
Public Prosecutor’s Office submitted the indictment before the Istanbul
26th Heavy Penal Court, and on September 16, 2022, Bilal Yıldız and the
other 22 co-accused were charged with “membership to an illegal armed
The indictment bill criminalises
Bilal Yıldız’s legitimate and peaceful human rights activities as a
HRFT member and founding member of the Migration Monitoring Association,
including phone conversations with fellow social workers and HRFT
members, referral of human trafficking cases to other human rights
organisations, or several workshops organised by HRFT. Yet, the
accusation does not include any causal link between Bilal Yıldız and the
Migration Monitoring Association’s activities. Finally, the indictment
also contains information about Bilal Yıldız’s personal bank
transactions to his relatives, which are unrelated to both HRFT and the
Migration Monitoring Association’s activities.
The Observatory strongly condemns
the ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Bilal Yıldız
on trumped-up charges, and notes with concern that these attacks against
him, HRFT and the Migration Monitoring Association, not only punish him
for his legitimate human rights activities, but severely hinder the
access of dozens of torture and ill-treatment survivors to social
support and rehabilitation.
The Observatory urges the
authorities in Turkey to immediately and unconditionally release Bilal
Yıldız and his co-accused, drop all charges against them, and to
guarantee their rights to a fair trial and due process as long as the
criminal process against them is ongoing.
The Observatory further urges the
authorities in Turkey to put an end to all acts of harassment, including
at the judicial level, against Bilal Yıldız and his co-accused, as well
as all members of HRFT and the Migration Monitoring Association.
The Observatory more generally calls
on the authorities to ensure that all human rights organisations and
human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate
human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all
restrictions, including judicial harassment.