Obviously, I was not a terrorist after all

On June 6, 2023, remaining four of 11 human rights defenders in the Büyükada case, who were convicted in 2020 acquitted. Decision comes exactly six years after initial arrest. One of four, Mr Kurşun wrote: “Obviously, I was not a terrorist after all”.

Günal Kursun

Dr. Günal Kurşun is a criminal law expert, human rights defenders, and purged academic.

How does the AKP deputy feel now, who ran from one (tv) channel to another while we were imprisoned, knowing full well that we had no chance to respond, telling everybody that we were in fact great spies and who has been done away after only one term in the parliament?

In July 2017, I was detained along with nine other fellow human rights activists in a hotel in Büyükada, Istanbul, during a human rights workshop similar to the ones I had attended dozens of times before. After being detained for 13 days at the Anti-Terror Branch of the Security Directorate, I was arrested by a Peace Criminal Judge and sent to Silivri Prison, where I spent 100 days.

NO-END-IN-SIGHTThe story may of course sound familiar. In early 2017, Amnesty International published one of its best reports on the issue of emergency decree laws, which is still considered a reference today. The report criticised the absurdities of the aftermath of 15 July and stated that the measures imposed on thousands of people dismissed by emergency decrees were a gross violation of human rights. If it was followed by similar reports, it would have put the government in a very difficult situation, especially in the international arena. This had to be stopped somehow.

In June 2017, about 50 days after the publication of the report, my friend, lawyer Taner Kılıç, the head of Amnesty International Turkey and one of the best names in refugee law in Turkey, was arrested. A month later, Kılıç’s case was merged with the case of us, who had been arrested in the “Büyükada operation”, resulting in a larger case where “human rights were on trial.”

To tell the truth, it worked, as after that date, no Amnesty International report on Turkey on the judiciary or fundamental rights was ever published on that scale, and only a few press releases have been issued on a few isolated issues. It was only after that silence the imprisonments of human rights defenders including me and Taner Kılıç could come to an end. 

Our trial lasted 6 years in total. First, they acquitted 7 of my friends by dividing the group into two, the reason for which remains unexplained, and 4 other defenders, including Taner and myself, were convicted. The Court of Appeal upheld the verdicts at the speed of light and the file came to the Court of Cassation. After a 1.5-year wait, the Court of Cassation overturned the verdict on the grounds of lack of evidence and sent the file back to the court of first instance. At the final hearing last Tuesday, we were all acquitted. The reason for the verdict was a lack of evidence. Obviously, we were not terrorists after all. The state said “Sorry”.

Especially in the first two months of our arrest, the headlines, especially in the pro-government media, were like “Spies caught red-handed”, “Traitors detained at the treason table”, and “Spies caught red-handed”. Years have passed since the prosecutor’s office adopted a non-prosecution decision over these accusations of espionage, spying and treason. Looking at his columns in the same press group, I thought that they would probably file a lawsuit for “leading a terrorist organisation”. It was first reduced to membership, then to “aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member”. Now we have been acquitted. From where to here, human beings are indeed like birds.

I am writing this so that the quality of our judicial authorities can be better understood. It’s a blessing that it took me six years as a criminal law lecturer to be able to explain myself! I wonder what a citizen, whose voice has been silenced and who has been physically and mentally crumbled, is made to go through by his own judiciary in his own country?

I counted, I have travelled to Istanbul 18 times solely for this case, I had to spend hotel, travel and legal expenses… As an academic summarily dismissed with a state of emergency decree, I know that I am one of the luckiest people, because my family, friends and fellow human rights defenders have always stood firmly behind me. Not everyone can be so lucky.

Now I sincerely wonder if there is anyone among those members of the press who feels a moral responsibility. How does the AKP deputy feel now, who ran from one (tv) channel to another while we were imprisoned, knowing full well that we had no chance to respond, telling everybody that we were in fact, great spies.

The most painful thing was the feeling of worry every time my 1.5-year-old son came to visit me in Silivri; “will I see him grow up?”. Today, our prison population is measured in hundreds of thousands. Human rights defenders, on the other hand, are still trying to amplify isolated, weak and no-growth objections. Welcome to the Turkish century.

Categories: Turkey Human Rights Blog

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