Unjust Detention and Abuse of Minors and Mothers in Istanbul Allegedly Affiliated with the Gülen movement

Context

On the 7th of May 2024, the Turkish police conducted a large-scale operation in Istanbul, where multiple people associated with the Gülen movement, distinctly young female students were targeted. Consequently, 49 persons were detained, including students aged between 13-25, together with their parents. Among the people arrested, a mother with Parkinson’s disease and her daughter were put in prison, facing numerous violations of human rights that will be further explained. The operation was carried out by the Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime and Anti-Terrorism units of the police in the Beylikdüzü district of Istanbul.

During the operation, multiple homes were forcibly entered and searched, and children were forcefully taken into custody by the Turkish authorities, despite objections from their families and lawyers. This has raised concerns among Turkish society, but also at the international level, about the treatment of minors and the violation of their basic rights during the operation.

Basis for the detention

During the investigations, the minor detainees were reportedly questioned in the absence of their lawyers, and their statements were allegedly manipulated by the police authorities. Some minors were interrogated for 15 hours without having access to legal services, while others were questioned under threat or pressure.

The alleged reasons for this operation were based on activities such as providing, educational support to people by being an education coach, offering financial support, assisting with language learning (English), and organizing educational events. All those activities were intended to support the legal as well as the learning/pedagogic needs for students, but instead, they were labelled as ‘terrorist activities’.

Among the detainees, the female students were questioned about institutions and activities that could be potentially linked to the Gülen Movement. Specific questions included subscriptions to closed publications, use of the ByLock application, and holding accounts at confiscated Bank Asya. Those inquiries as well as how they were made, reflect intrusion into individual freedoms of expression, access to information, and financial freedoms Other students were also questioned about participation in tuition centres, schools, or dormitories associated with the Gülen Movement. Other questions that were put were either interpretative, leading, or based on physical and phone surveillance.

Stories behind the scenes

The stories from the detained people paint a disturbing picture of the unlawful detentions in Istanbul and the heavy impacts on children and their families. From a mother arrested for providing English lessons to her children, to a doctor detained with his daughters, and a mother of seven detained along with her children, these stories showcase the arbitrary and unjust nature of the detentions. People who were suffering from different diseases, for example, a woman diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, were kept in unsuitable and unacceptable conditions.

Those stories not only underscore the need for greater accountability in the detention process, in order to prevent these violations of human rights and arbitrariness but also bring to the surface the reality behind the bars and the unspoken atrocities that happen to these innocent individuals and their families.

Recommendations

The following recommendations are non-exhaustive and can be used to address human rights violations and prevent such cases:

  • Advocate for legal and humanitarian assistance by encouraging NGOs to provide support for the affected persons. For example, providing counselling services, funding legal defence and monitoring the conditions for the detainees to see if they align with the international standards.
  • Promote awareness and mobilize support for the current issue, as well as encouraging campaigns that support human rights. Additionally, these could also determine the Turkish authorities to adhere to international standards.
  • Call for investigation by demanding the UN organs or different human rights organizations to initiate an independent investigation to the alleged violations of human rights.

Keywords: Gülen, students, Turkish police, detention, Istanbul, minors, arbitrary, human rights

References:

Interview with Mr Hakan Kaplankaya on the importance of the ECtHR judgement in YÜKSEL YALÇINKAYA v TÜRKİYE

ECHR courtroom - Copyright AP Photo Euronews.com

By Maria Popova

I had an interview with Mr Hakan Kaplankaya. Together, we discussed the ECtHR decision Yuksel Yalcinkaya vs Turkey.

Hakan Kaplankaya is a legal advisor and former Turkish diplomat. His research and consultancy services focus mainly on human rights advocacy and international commercial arbitration. During his tenure at the Ministry, he worked at the NATO Desk. He is also a board member of InstiduDE, Belgium’s research-driven NGO.

  1. Mr Kaplankaya, can you elaborate for us what the judgement is about and its importance?

The Turkish government launched a crackdown on the Gulen Movement (GM), especially after the graft probes in December 2013, which escalated to an annihilation campaign after the failed coup on July 15, 2016. GM was designated as a terrorist organisation, which paved the way to widespread criminal prosecutions for membership in a terrorist group against members, followers, and sympathisers of the movement. Within criminal proceedings, routine activities were treated as evidence of terrorist organisation membership, such as subscribing to a daily, enrolling children in GM-affiliated schools, depositing money in Bankasya, using the Bylock mobile chat application, joining GM-related associations, and participating in religious talks.

Over 600,000 people were prosecuted, with more than 300,000 detained and over 100,000 convicted on terrorism charges. The ECtHR’s judgment is a long-awaited response to this travesty of justice.

Another notable aspect of these persecutions and the judgment is that this judicial practice has risen to crimes against humanity. As fellows of the Institute for Diplomacy and Economy, we drafted a report on this issue two years ago. In various opinions, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that the arbitrary detentions faced by numerous Turkish individuals linked to this group since the coup attempt follow a systematic and widespread pattern, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. The international community should give due consideration and examination to this dimension.

  1. The Grand Chamber judgment in the case highlighted violations of Article 7 (no punishment without law) and Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the ECHR. Could you explain how the Court found that the applicant’s conviction, based on the use of the ByLock application, departed from the requirements of national law and was contrary to the object and purpose of Article 7, which aims to provide safeguards against arbitrary prosecution, conviction, and punishment?

The Court observed that the applicant’s conviction for membership in a terrorist organisation was primarily based on his alleged use of the ByLock messaging application, while other evidence, such as his account at Bank Asya and his membership in a trade union and an association, served as corroborative sources. The mere use of the ByLock application, regardless of the content of the messages or the recipients’ identities, was deemed sufficient in domestic law to establish all the elements of the crime of belonging to an armed terrorist organisation.

Interview with Mr Hakan Kaplankaya on the importance of the ECtHR judgement in YÜKSEL YALÇINKAYA v TÜRKİYE App no 15669/20 (ECtHR, 26 September 2023)

The Court acknowledged that the use of the ByLock application could indicate some connection with the Gülen Group but disagreed with the domestic courts’ conclusion, which was merely downloading and using the application pointed out the complete submission to the organisation and its hierarchy. Instead, the Court found that relying on the mere use of ByLock alone to establish the elements of the offence was an unforeseeable and expansive interpretation of anti-terror legislation. This interpretation essentially created an almost automatic presumption of guilt based solely on ByLock usage, making it extremely difficult for the applicant to prove his innocence.

Without examining the presence of ‘knowledge’ and ‘intent,’ which are requirements in the legal definition of the offence under domestic law, the Court observed that objective liability was effectively attached to the use of ByLock. This interpretation by the domestic courts effectively bypassed the essential, particularly mental, element of the offence and treated it as a strict liability offence, thus deviating from the established requirements in domestic law. Consequently, the Court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 7 of the Convention.

  1. The judgment identifies procedural shortcomings in the criminal proceedings against Mr Yalçınkaya, particularly regarding his access to and ability to effectively challenge the ByLock evidence, breaching his right to a fair trial under Article 6. Can you elaborate on the specific failures in the courts’ handling of the ByLock evidence and how these shortcomings undermined the applicant’s opportunity to challenge the proof effectively, as outlined by the Court?

Regarding Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the Court examined whether the applicant, who faced non-disclosure of crucial ByLock data, was given adequate procedural safeguards and whether the applicant was afforded a suitable opportunity to prepare his defence.

The Court criticised the silence of domestic courts concerning their rejection of the applicant’s request for Bylock raw data, as well as the applicant’s substantiated concerns about the reliability of the evidence. The refusal of the applicant’s request to independently examine the raw data to verify its content and integrity was also noted. The Court emphasized that proceedings should have allowed the applicant to fully comment on the decrypted material, ensuring a “fair balance” between the parties.

In conclusion, the Court found insufficient safeguards for the applicant to challenge the evidence effectively and on equal footing with the prosecution. The failure of domestic courts to address the applicant’s requests and objections raised doubts that they were impervious to the defence arguments. The Court ruled that the applicant was not genuinely ‘heard,’ concluding that the criminal proceedings fell short of a fair trial, breaching Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

  1. The Court held that Türkiye must take general measures to address systemic problems, particularly concerning the Turkish judiciary’s approach to using ByLock. As a legal expert, what specific measures do you believe would be necessary to rectify the identified systemic problems and ensure that future cases involving digital evidence, like ByLock, comply with the requirements of the ECHR, particularly in safeguarding individuals against arbitrary consequences and upholding the principles of a fair trial?

The Court highlighted the systemic nature of the issue, with over 8,000 similar cases and the potential for around one hundred thousand more cases from Turkey to reach the European Court. To address this, Turkey needs to implement general measures for resolution. Although the anti-terror legislation has faced criticism for its broad interpretative potential, mainly from scholars, the Venice Commission, and some European Court judgments, I believe the core problem lies in the arbitrary interpretation by the Turkish judiciary rather than the legislation’s wording. Despite Yalçınkaya reflecting the Court’s stance on this interpretation, there is still room for legislative amendment. However, the most immediate solution would be a jurisprudential change, with the Turkish judiciary aligning itself with the Yalçınkaya judgment, refraining from incriminating people for ordinary, non-criminal activities. Unfortunately, four months after the release of this judgment, Turkish courts have not given a clear signal that they have aligned with it.

Reopening cases in Turkey that have already been presented to the European Court could present a viable solution. Although Turkish criminal procedure permits the reopening of a case if the European Court identifies a violation, this right is currently not extended to similar cases. Nevertheless, a recent ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court lends support to this potential solution. Consequently, a legal amendment would be beneficial to address and clarify this issue explicitly. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any instance where a domestic court has approved reopening a case similar to Yalcinkaya.

Following the Yalcinkaya case, individuals convicted of terrorism charges based on their alleged membership in the GM should be acquitted. The Bylock evidence, riddled with numerous shortcomings, was examined by the Strasbourg Court, which criticised the Turkish court’s flawed examination without explicitly affirming its evidentiary value. However, given the significant deficiencies in the Bylock evidence, it becomes untenable for any impartial court to accept it as credible. Moreover, the Court identified a more substantial issue, emphasising a violation of Article 7. Thus, the result should be an acquittal.

Bas du formulaire

Interview with Mr Hakan Kaplankaya ECtHR YÜKSEL YALÇINKAYA v TÜRKİYE By Maria Popova
  1. Given the historical significance outlined in the Yalçınkaya judgment and its impact on Article 7 violations, can you elaborate on the specific legal principles related to the “legality of crimes and punishments” that make an Article 7 violation so severe and why the ECHR has been cautious in finding such violations for its member states over the years?”

The “No punishment without law” principle is a fundamental legal tenet. In societies governed by the rule of law, the violation of this principle is not encountered. The recent judgment marks the sixtieth violation ruling by the Court in its history. The incrimination of hundreds of thousands of people in contravention of this principle is profoundly shocking. Witnessing such a grave systemic violation is, in my view, a source of shame for all Europeans.

  1. The Yalçınkaya decision highlights a systemic issue with over 8,000 pending cases of a similar nature and suggests the potential for over 100,000 more cases based on ByLock usage. How do you think non-compliance with the Yalçınkaya decision could impact Turkey’s judicial system and its international standing, and what steps should the authorities, particularly the Constitutional Court, take to address this issue promptly?

As stated in the judgment, it is binding on the Turkish judiciary. Therefore, the Turkish Constitutional Court and other superior courts should align with it. Failure to do so may result in the European Court issuing violation judgments for similar cases and potential future applications. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will monitor the execution of the judgment, involving a political and diplomatic process. Significantly, according to the Turkish Constitution, the decisions of the European Court are binding, and I hope that they will eventually be implemented in Turkey by Turkish authorities.

Current issues in Turkish prisons submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

https://i.duvarenglish.com/2/814/458/storage/files/images/2021/05/19/hapishane-l9BQ_cover.jpg.webp

By
Carolina Silvestre, Dimitrios Chasouras, María Núñez Fontán, Olimpia Guidi, Samantha Orozco, Vahit Uzunlar

Through this report, our organisation aims to address current issues and promote good practices in prison management, focusing on Turkey. In alignment with the objectives set forth by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), this thematic report endeavours to shed light on the prevailing challenges and commendable practices within the Turkish prison system. The report considers the OHCHR’s delineation of eight crucial focus areas, which serves as the foundational framework for our comprehensive assessment of Turkey’s prison management practices through “Call 9.” As a critical contribution to the discourse on human rights and prison conditions, this report aims to offer valuable insights and recommendations for enhancing the well-being and dignity of detainees within Turkey’s correctional facilities, thereby advancing the cause of human rights on a global scale.


For the comprehensive evaluation of prison management in Turkey, “Broken Chalk” has laid down ten critical points of focus that underpin the core objectives of this report. These ten key areas encompass issues of profound importance in understanding prison conditions and human rights in the Turkish correctional system. These points are as follows:

  1. Babies in Turkish Prisons: The presence of infants in correctional facilities raises concerns about the rights and well-being of both the child and the incarcerated parent.
  2. Sick Prisoners in Turkey: Ensuring adequate healthcare and treatment for ill inmates is fundamental to their human rights.
  3. Pregnant Women in Turkish Prisons: The unique needs of expectant mothers behind bars require special attention and care.
  4. Deaths Due to COVID-19 in Turkish Prisons: In light of the global pandemic, examining the impact of COVID-19 on prison populations is of utmost importance.
  5. Deaths Due to Sickness in Turkish Prisons: Understanding the circumstances leading to deaths within prisons is essential to addressing systemic issues.
  6. Parole Right Violations in Turkish Prisons: Ensuring prisoners’ rights to parole are respected and upheld is critical in fair and just incarceration.
  7. Allegations of Torture and Ill-Treatment in Turkish Prisons: Investigating claims of torture and ill-treatment is critical for upholding human rights and international standards.
  8. Exceeding Capacity in Turkish Prisons: Overcrowding poses significant challenges to the well-being of inmates, and its implications are central to this report.
  9. Denial of the Right to Defence in Turkish Prisons: Ensuring access to legal representation and due process is pivotal in safeguarding the rights of those incarcerated.
  10. Access to Health Services in Turkish Prisons: Adequate healthcare services are a fundamental human right for those within the prison system.

    Each of these points has been included in the report to shed light on specific areas of concern within the Turkish prison system, with the ultimate goal of improving conditions, safeguarding human rights, and contributing to international discourse on the subject.

Unveiling Human Rights Violations: The Targeting of Gülen Movement Followers in Turkey

Sümeyye Tercanoğlu

By Anna Moneta

In October 2023, Sümeyye Tercanoğlu and her husband, a Turkish Gulen teacher, faced conviction for suspected affiliation with the Gulen movement. The allegations centred around their purported use of ByLock, a phone application believed by the government to be a platform for Gulen movement supporters engaging in secret communication since the failed coup attempt in 2016. It’s essential to note that no concrete evidence supports these allegations. The Gulen movement, led by an influential Islamic cleric, aims to provide devout Muslims with the necessary secular education for success in contemporary society while also emphasizing the importance of traditional religious teachings. The movement promotes a tolerant form of Islam, highlighting values such as altruism, modesty, hard work, and education (Pew Research Center, 2010). The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been actively targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013. The government’s actions against the Gülen movement have raised concerns about human rights violations and the erosion of democratic principles.

taken from https://polatlipostasicom.teimg.com/crop/1280×720/polatlipostasi-com/uploads/2023/10/zarif-sumeyye-tercanoglu-neden-tutuklandi.png

Upon Sümeyye Tercanoğlu’s arrest, a deeply distressing situation unfolded. She was separated from her 4-month-old child, who, since the day of the arrest, had not been breastfed and lacked access to his mother’s breast milk—crucial for his healthy growth. Legislator Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, known for his human rights advocacy and affiliation with the Green Left Party (YSP), raised concerns about the plight of pregnant women or mothers with infants, asserting that such separations occur on a near-daily basis. He specifically called for the release of Sümeyye Tercanoğlu, shedding light on the human rights implications of these incidents.

Simultaneously, the European Court of Human Rights issued a significant judgment in the case of Yüksel Yalçınkaya v. Türkiye, holding violations of Article 7 (no punishment without law), Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial), and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Much like the case of Sümeyye Tercanoğlu, Mr. Yalçınkaya’s conviction was significantly based on the use of the encrypted messaging application ByLock.

The judgment underscored that the Turkish judiciary’s uniform and global approach to ByLock evidence did not comply with national law or the object and purpose of Article 7, designed to safeguard against arbitrary prosecution, conviction, and punishment. Procedural shortcomings in criminal proceedings, specifically regarding access to and compelling challenge of ByLock evidence, were also noted, breaching the right to a fair trial under Article 6. This systemic problem has broader implications, with approximately 8,500 applications on the Court’s docket involving similar complaints under Articles 7 and/or 6 of the Convention. Under Article 46, the ECHR mandated that Turkey implement general measures to address these systemic problems, particularly concerning the Turkish judiciary’s approach to ByLock evidence. This underscores the urgent need for Turkey to address the human rights violations associated with convictions based on ByLock usage.

Bibliography

Liu, J. (2010) Gülen movement, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2010/09/15/muslim-networks-and-movements-in-western-europe-gulen-movement/. Last visited November 13th 2023.

European Court of Human Rights. (2023) Judgment concerning Türkiye, ECHR. Available at: https://www.echr.coe.int/w/grand-chamber-judgment-concerning-turkiye. Last visited November 13th 2023.

Yüksel Yalçinkaya v. Türkiye. (2023). European Court of Human Rights. https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-227636%22]}. Last visited November 13th 2023.

Detention of Ismet Ozcelik Extended by 10 Months

By Aneta Orlowska

The case of Ismet Ozcelik, a Turkish national, has once again highlighted the concerns surrounding justice and the legal profession in Turkey. Ozcelik, an academic who has been held in detention since 2017 on alleged links to a cleric blamed for a 2016 coup attempt, was due for release from prison. However, his departure has been extended by an additional ten months, raising questions about the fairness and independence of the Turkish legal system.

Ozcelik, along with Turgay Karaman, a school principal, was deported from Malaysia to Turkey in 2017, where they were accused of ties to the network of Fethullah Gulen. The Gulen movement, led by an influential Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, aims to provide devout Muslims with the necessary secular education for success in contemporary society while also emphasising the importance of traditional religious teachings. The movement promotes a tolerant form of Islam, highlighting values such as altruism, modesty, hard work, and education (Pew Research Center, 2010).

Since the failed coup attempt, the Turkish government has detained and jailed tens of thousands of people, pending trial, on suspicion of involvement with Gulen’s network. Human rights organizations have criticized this widespread crackdown for its impact on the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.

One of the key pieces of evidence used against Ozcelik was the allegation that he had used a mobile app called Bylock, which Turkish authorities claimed was used exclusively by Gulen’s followers. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has clarified that using Bylock cannot serve as reasonable suspicion for arrest or evidence for a conviction. Despite this, Ozcelik’s requests for an expert panel examination to contest the claims against him were denied, violating the principle of equality of arms in the legal process.

In addition to the Bylock allegation, Ozcelik’s participation in a protest and his social media posts criticizing the government’s actions were presented as evidence of his alleged membership in an armed terrorist organization. The UN Human Rights Committee and the ECtHR have emphasized protecting the fundamental rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. They have stated that these activities should not be criminalized without concrete evidence of involvement in illegal or terrorist activities.

Another contentious aspect of the case is the involvement of a private education company, Polat A.S., with which Ozcelik was a shareholder. Turkish authorities accused the company of being a front for carrying out alleged terrorist activities. However, critics argue that no concrete evidence substantiates this claim. Polat A.S. was a legally incorporated company operating under Turkish law and with a license from the Ministry of Education. Using such legal activities as grounds for criminal conviction raises concerns about the validity of the charges against Ozcelik.

The extension of Ozcelik’s detention by ten months has raised further concerns about the erosion of justice and the stifling of the legal profession in Turkey. Human rights defenders and legal experts have consistently expressed worries about arbitrary detention and the use of terrorism charges against individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

The case of Ismet Ozcelik and others like him underscores the need for Turkey to uphold fundamental principles of justice, independence, and respect for human rights. International bodies, including the United Nations, have called for the release of detainees like Ozcelik and have highlighted the importance of providing effective remedies for those who have suffered violations of their rights.

As the detention of Ismet Ozcelik continues, it remains a stark reminder of the challenges facing the Turkish legal system and the urgent need for reforms to protect the rights and freedoms of all individuals.

Note: This article is based on available information and does not constitute legal advice or an official statement of the events described.

REFERENCES
  • Initiative, T. A. L. (2023, July 30). How having “the wrong” dish led to imprisonment for terrorism. The Arrested Lawyers Initiative is a volunteer organisation to defend the defenders. https://arrestedlawyers.org/2023/07/28/how-having-the-wrong-dish-led-to-imprisonment-for-terrorism/
  • İsmet Ozcelik. Tenkil Memorial. (n.d.). https://tenkilmemorial.org/en/tenkil-veritabani/ismet-ozcelik/
  • Miles, T. (2019, May 29). Turkey was told by U.N. to free and compensate gulen-linked detainees. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-un-idUSKCN1SZ1RD
  • Scf. (2023, November 9). Man imprisoned on Gülen links to spend ten more months behind bars for making prayer beads. Stockholm Center for Freedom. https://stockholmcf.org/man-imprisoned-on-gulen-links-to-spend-10-more-months-behind-bars-for-making-prayer-beads/
  • Turkish Minute. (2023, November 9). Man imprisoned on Gülen links to spend 10 more months behind bars for making prayer beads. https://www.turkishminute.com/2023/11/09/man-imprisoned-on-gulen-link-to-spend-10-more-months-behind-bars-for-making-prayer-beads/
  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee has decided that Turkey is unfair. Justice Square. (n.d.). https://www.justicesquare.com/uncategorized/the-united-nations-human-rights-committee-has-decided-that-turkey-is-unfair/
  • Çetin, T. (2019, June 5). Un asks Turkey to release i̇smet özçelik and Turgay Karaman immediately. BoldMedya. https://boldmedya.com/2019/06/02/un-asks-turkey-to-release-immediately-ismet-ozcelik-and-turgay-karaman/

The parents of the quintuplets were arrested due to membership in the Gülen movement.

The Gülen Movement: Promoting Education and Human Rights

The Gülen Movement, named after its founder, Fethullah Gülen, is an influential cluster of religious, educational, and social organisations. Founded in the late 1960s in Turkey, the movement aims to provide faithful Muslims with a modern education while emphasising traditional religious teachings. With a network of schools and centres in over 100 countries, the movement has significantly contributed to education and intercultural dialogue worldwide.

The movement gained international attention in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2015, in Turkey. The coup attempt, attached to a faction within the Turkish military, led to a turbulent period in the country. In the wake of the coup, many individuals associated with the Gülen Movement, including educationists and teachers, faced severe repercussions.

Soldiers with their hands up on Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36855846

Following the coup attempt, educationists and teachers associated with the Gülen Movement became targets of government crackdowns. Thousands of educators were dismissed under a state of emergency decrees (KHK), leaving them without job security and facing social stigma. The government accused them of being members of a terrorist organisation, specifically the Gülen movement, and subjected them to legal proceedings.

One notable case in this context is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (EHRC) regarding teacher Yalcinkaya. The EHRC recognised that Yalcinkaya’s dismissal from her teaching position violated her rights to freedom of expression and association. This decision shed light on the challenges faced by educators associated with the Gülen Movement and highlighted the need to safeguard human rights after the coup attempt.

Source: https://www.turkishminute.com/2023/09/11/ecthr-soon-announce-decision-turkish-teacher-convicted-of-gulen-link/

It is important to note that accusations against the parents of the quintuplets and their siblings, Abdülkadir and Nurcan Arslan, who were arrested and subsequently imprisoned, are not considered crimes in any part of the world. It was stated that Abdülkadir Arslan worked at a private teaching institution previously closed by a decree law, and his wife was a housewife. The couple was accused of being members of the Gülen movement, resulting in their separation from their children. This situation raises concerns about the well-being of the children and the impact of parental absence on their development. Furthermore, one of the children has a health problem, which adds to the complexity of their situation. The absence of their parents and the challenges they face as a result of the coup attempt have undoubtedly affected their overall well-being and access to necessary medical care.

Despite these difficulties, some people in Turkey have shown support for the family through social media platforms. By raising awareness and advocating for their rights, individuals have come together to provide assistance and solidarity to the quintuplets and their siblings. This support demonstrates the power of social media in mobilising communities to address the challenges faced by individuals affected by the aftermath of the coup attempt.

The Gülen Movement’s commitment to education has been a cornerstone of its efforts. The movement has established numerous educational institutions worldwide, focusing on providing a comprehensive education that combines modern subjects with an emphasis on religious values. These Gülen-inspired schools have been successful in countries such as Germany, where they cater to Turkish immigrants and their offspring. The movement’s educational agenda aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in the modern world while maintaining a solid connection to their religious heritage.

However, the educational initiatives of the Gülen Movement have faced significant challenges after the failed coup attempt. The government’s crackdown on the movement’s members and institutions has resulted in the closure of many Gülen-inspired schools and educational centres. The dismissal of teachers and educationists associated with the movement has disrupted the education of countless students who relied on these institutions for their learning.

The impact of the coup attempt and subsequent government actions on the education sector goes beyond the closure of schools. The stigmatisation and persecution of educators associated with the Gülen Movement have created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity within the education community. Teachers, once respected and valued for their dedication to education, now find themselves marginalised and targeted. This not only hampers the progress of education but also undermines the fundamental principles of human rights and freedom of expression.

The plight of the quintuplets and their sibling, left without their parents due to their alleged affiliation with the Gülen Movement, highlights the human cost of the political turmoil in Turkey. Separated from their loved ones, these children face an uncertain future and the challenges of growing up without parental guidance. The emotional and psychological impact of their situation cannot be underestimated, particularly considering that one of the children has a health problem that requires extra care and support.

Source: https://www.turkishminute.com/2023/10/04/turkish-court-send-parents-of-6-to-prison-on-gulen-charges-conviction/

In such difficult circumstances, social media has become a powerful tool for mobilising support and raising awareness. People from all walks of life, both within and outside Turkey, have used social media platforms to express solidarity with the quintuplets and their siblings. Through hashtags and online campaigns, individuals have shared their concerns, donated resources, and advocated for their rights. This outpouring of support demonstrates the potential of social media to galvanise communities and bring attention to pressing human rights issues.

In conclusion, the Gülen Movement, focusing on education and intercultural dialogue, has significantly contributed to society globally. However, the movement and its members have faced challenges and human rights issues in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey. It is crucial to recognise the impact on educationists and teachers associated with the movement, the separation of families, and the importance of safeguarding human rights in such circumstances. The support individuals show through social media platforms highlights the resilience and solidarity among communities in times of adversity. As the international community grapples with the aftermath of political turmoil, it is vital to prioritise human rights and ensure that education remains a fundamental right for all children, irrespective of their parents’ affiliations.

Teacher Yüksel Yalçınkaya v. Türkiye

ECHR courtroom - Copyright AP Photo Euronews.com

By Maria Popova

In a significant judgement on the 26th of September, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that Türkiye has to address a systematic problem of terrorism convictions decisively based on using a messaging application by the accused. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 7 ECHR (no punishment without law), Article 6(1) ECHR (right to a fair trial) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association).

Facts of the case

The case had to deal with the conviction of a former teacher, Yüksel Yalçınkaya, who was assumed to have participated in an armed terrorist organisation called the “FETÖ/PDY” formerly known as the “Gülen movement” and considered by the Turkish authorities to be behind the attempted coup d’état of 15 July 2016.

The teacher was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organisation. He was put in pre-trial detention and received his bill of indictment in 2017. According to the authorities, the accusation and the following arrest were based on the following evidence: suspicious banking activity, membership of a trade union, which allegedly had a terrorist link and the use of a mobile application called ByLock, which had reportedly been used for communication purposes by the members of the terrorist organisation.

Following his trial, Mr. Yalçınkaya was sentenced to six years and three months in prison. A decision later upheld by the Court of Appeal in Ankara and the Cassation Court. The decisive evidence in the case was using the mobile application, which was considered exclusively employed by the “FETÖ/PDY”. The Bank Asya account and the participation in the trade union served as supportive evidence due to their affiliation with the terrorist organisation.

Applicant’s submission before the Court of Human Rights

Following his conviction, Mr Yalçınkaya lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights in 2020 due to alleged violations of his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

He relied on Article 6(1) ECHR, which stipulates the right to a fair trial. According to the applicant, there were irregularities regarding the collection and the admissibility of the evidence regarding the ByLock application. Furthermore, according to the applicant, there were difficulties in challenging said evidence, which is an essential procedure constituting a fair trial.

Mr Yalçınkaya also alleged a violation of Article 7 (stipulating that there shouldn’t be a punishment if the act or the omission were not categorised as a crime at the time of committing) and 11 ECHR (stipulating the freedom of assembly and association) because his conviction was based on acts which did not constitute a crime under Turkish law—mainly, the participation in a trade union and the possession of a bank account.

Government’s submission

The Turkish Government argued that a state of emergency justified all measures taken following an attempted military coup. Therefore, according to its representatives, Türkiye has not violated any applicant’s rights under the ECHR. The Government used in its defence article 15 ECHR, which stipulates that in the case of any nation-threatening emergency, the country might derogate from its obligations under the Convention.

Judgement of the Court

Regarding the defence put forward by the Turkish Government regarding Article 15 ECHR, the Court of Human Rights has decided that Article 15 does not allow for a derogation from Article 7 ECHR. Therefore, it will be considered only about the other articles mentioned in the case.

Regarding the violation of Article 7 ECHR, the Court established that it prescribes that only an existing legal provision can define a criminal act and lay out a penalty. Such a law should not be enacted to the detriment of the accused. The Court agreed that article 314(2) of the Turkish Criminal Code and the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which constitute the legal framework under which Mr Yalçınkaya was convicted in Türkiye are clear and well-defined enough for the applicant to understand whether he has committed a criminal offence.

Under Turkish legislation, for the convicted to be liable for participation in a terrorist organisation, there has to be proof of his specific knowledge and intent to be a member of the terrorist group. For example, there had to be an “organic link” with the organisation; that link should be continuous, and they must be well aware that the group’s activities are illegal and the person must possess a specific intent to further such unlawful activities. There should also be proof that the accused willingly participated in the organisation’s hierarchical structure. It is not enough that the law was well defined. The law had to be applied precisely, following all of its requirements regarding a conviction. Something the Turkish authorities failed to do.

The ECtHR held that the Turkish authorities failed to prove every requirement of the law but instead automatically presumed that Mr Yalçınkaya was a member of the “FETÖ/PDY” solely because he was using the app ByLock. That assumption was made irrespective of the nature of his messages or the receivers of his messages. The applicant had no opportunity to defend himself nor challenge such presumptions and allegations. Therefore, his rights under Article 7 ECHR were violated as the article aims to ensure safeguards against arbitrary convictions.

The Court also sided with the applicant regarding the violation of Article 6 ECHR, or the right to a fair trial. The Court held that for Article 6 to be ensured correctly, evidence in a problem had to be collected fairly and legally, and the accused should be able to challenge and review the evidence against him. Those are some of the factors required for a fair trial to be ensured.

In this case, the Turkish courts had failed to ensure the safeguards prescribed by Article 6(1) ECHR. Firstly, there was no valid reason why the ByLock data was kept from the applicant, nor why the applicant was not allowed to comment on the evidence against him, which would have also allowed him to challenge its validity. The Courts have also denied the applicants’ request that the ByLock data be submitted to an independent examination to ensure its validity. The disregard for such safeguards constitutes a violation of Article 6 ECHR.

Regarding Article 11 ECHR, the Court held that the applicant’s conviction of membership in a terrorist organisation based on his participation in a trade union constitutes a violation of his rights. The mere participation in a trade union that has operated lawfully before the coup cannot be foreseen as an indication of criminal conduct.

According to the court

There are currently approximately 8,500 applications on the Court’s docket involving similar complaints under Articles 7 and 6 of the Convention, and given that the authorities had identified around 100,000 ByLock users, many more might potentially be lodged. The problems which had led to findings of violations were systemic. Under Article 46 (binding force and implementation of judgments), the Court held that Türkiye had to take general measures appropriate to address those systemic problems, notably regarding the Turkish judiciary’s approach to Bylock evidence.

Following the decision

The Court’s judgement received criticism from the Turkish Minister of Justice Yılmaz Tunç, who described it as unacceptable due to the ECtHR “overstepping its jurisdiction” by examining the credibility or lack of evidence used in the national trial. On the contrary, the applicant’s lawyer, Johan Heymans, characterised the judgement as a “milestone” and stated his belief that the decision of the Court would set an important precedent for similar Turkish cases.

Sources:
YÜKSEL YALÇINKAYA v TÜRKİYE App no 15669/20 (ECtHR, 26 September 2023)

European Court of Human Rights, ‘Türkiye must address systemic problem of convictions for terrorism offences based decisively on accused’s use of the ByLock messaging application’ (Press Release issued by the Registrar of the Court, 26.09.2023) accessed 17 September 2023

<https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf/?library=ECHR&id=003-7756172-10739780&filename=Grand%20Chamber%20judgment%20Y%C3%BCksel%20Yal%C3%A7inkaya%20v.%20T%C3%BCrkiye%20-%20systemic%20problem%20of%20convictions%20for%20terrorism%20offences%20based%20on%20use%20of%20ByLock%20messaging%20application.pdf

‘Conviction based on app use violated Turkish teacher’s rights, European court rules’ (Euronews, 26 September 2023) <https://www.euronews.com/2023/09/26/conviction-based-on-app-use-violated-turkish-teachers-rights-european-court-rules> accessed 17 September 2023

Amidst controversy and politics, the Akbas-Tereci family seeks safety and a place to call home.

In the Netherlands, the Akbas-Tereci family, devout members of the Gülen Movement, stand at a precipice of uncertainty. With the impending arrival of their second child, this Turkish couple and their five-year-old daughter Vera face a worrying reality. This legal dilemma threatens their pursuit of safety and stability. Their journey from Turkey to the Netherlands lays bare the unforgiving complexities of seeking asylum, shedding light on profound questions of justice and compassion in a world of uncertainty.
~ by Inja van Soest

Sümeyra Akbas en Beytullah Tereci with their daughter Vera. FOTO: NIELS DE VRIES
Sümeyra Akbas en Beytullah Tereci with their daughter Vera. FOTO: NIELS DE VRIES

A recent petition has sparked interest in the faith of this young family. Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci, a Turkish couple currently residing in the Netherlands with their five-year-old daughter, are expecting their second child. The couple is part of the Gülen Movement, which promotes a tolerant Islam emphasising altruism, modesty, hard work and education. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government accused the movement of being involved in an attempted coup in 2016, leading to much controversy about the movement and a political conflict. The Gülen Movement is classified as a terrorist organisation, making it dangerous for Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci to return to Turkey.
The family have been in the Netherlands for more than a year now. They have been volunteering in their community whilst attending Dutch language courses thrice weekly. Their five-year-old daughter has started to speak Dutch and has made local friends. Beytullah states: “We want to feel at home here. We came here to start a new life and have a future.”

Typically, Turkish refugees are granted residence permits, with approval rates reaching as high as 97.5 % in 2022, according to VluchtelingenWerk statistics. However, the case of Akbas and Tereci stands out due to their unique circumstances. While the parents hold Turkish citizenship, their daughter is of Brazilian nationality. Akbas and Tereci had fled from Turkey to Iraq before the failed coup attempt in 2016. They married in Iraq and built their lives as elementary school and preschool teachers. They had five more years of validity on their Turkish passports and believed they could return to their home country within that timeframe. However, when they were expecting their first child, they had to make a decision. If their daughter had been born in Iraq, she would have been stateless without any papers as them being Gülenists; they couldn’t go to the Embassy out of fear of being arrested. She would neither be granted a Turkish nor an Iraqi passport, and they would have been unable to leave Iraq. They decided to go to a country where their child would receive papers by birth. And they ended up going to Brazil for the birth of their daughter.

After two months of being there, they returned as a family of three. They didn’t plan on settling there. Therefore, they didn’t need a Visa, as their stay was shorter than three months. Afterwards, they returned to Iraq, where their jobs and life awaited them. Five years later, the decision to get papers for their daughter puts them in a situation where the Netherlands does not want to grant them residency as their daughter is Brazilian. The ruling of their case states they have a connection with Brazil. However, they neither speak the language nor have family or friends there.

The court ruling surprised the couple and their lawyer because the family would not receive residency in Brazil either, which could ultimately lead to them being deported to Turkey. The family was supposed to have to leave their current asylum centre by the 14th of September but have been offered the option to go to a different asylum centre. However, they would not be allowed to leave the town and have to sign in every morning that they are present at the centre. Akbas expresses his feelings of having escaped an unjust Turkish prison sentence to now live like a prisoner at the asylum centre. A daily life without much prospect. “It is like being sick, and you don’t enjoy anything. I don’t enjoy food or drinking. It should be happy times for my family; we worry too much instead.”
The initial ruling has been appealed, but the judge ruled against the appeal again, a disappointing outcome. But the family, their lawyer and their friends are unwilling to give up. Whilst their case is being fought in court, their Dutch language teacher has started a petition to revise the decision made by the court.

Beytullah Tereci is thankful for the support the family has been getting and hopes for a positive outcome for his family and his children. “We want to be home, but we cannot go there. So we choose a new home, a future. How can it be that your home is not welcoming you, and you still have to go.”

If you want to support Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci and their daughter Vera, you can sign the petition here:

Talk with Dr Ismail M. Sezgin on Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet Movement

After the 2016 failed coup attack in Turkey, the Turkish government accused Fethullah Gülen and Gülen’s “Hizmet” movement as the masterminds of the failed coup attack. Then, many teachers, professors, government officials, prosecutors, army members, police officers and human rights activists were detained, persecuted, and oppressed for their alleged link to the Hizmet movement. But what is the Hizmet Movement? Who is Fethullah Gülen? In addition, why is the current Turkish regime accusing Gülen of plotting the failed coup attack in 2016?

Broken Chalk is a non-profit organisation that fights against all types of discrimination, particularly human rights violations in education. As a fast-growing organisation, Broken Chalk strives to remove existing barriers in the educational sphere worldwide, collaborating with communities and organisations that share a similar mission and becoming a leading organisation that sustainably addresses human rights violations.

As part of Broken Chalk’s mission to defend human rights in the field of education, the “Broken Chalk Talks” program, launched on Monday, is a mini-seminar series for a 3-week period, whereby Dr Ismail M. Sezgin gives a lecture. As the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Hizmet Studies and research assistant at Regent’s Park College, his purposes with this initiative are to educate people about Fethullah Gülen – a Turkish Islamic scholar who self-exiled in the USA since 1999 -, about Hizmet Movement, and on the oppression of Hizmet Movement members, for many of them have been detained and stripped away from their jobs and positions.

In the first week of the seminar, Dr Ismail briefly introduced Fethullah Gülen’s life and activism since an early age, the atmosphere in Turkey during the 1990s, and how he was forced to emigrate to the United States to protect himself from his potential assassination. Dr Ismail provided a brief history of the Hizmet movement and its activism and dedication to human rights and charity works to improve marginalised people’s education, health, and living conditions. For the next two weeks, the seminar will discuss the Hizmet Movement and the ‘AKP’ – the current ruling party in Turkey and explain the reason for the AKP’s accusations towards Gulen and the Hizmet Movement on the grounds of ‘terrorism’. He will additionally dive into the reason for the Hizmet Movement’s support for AKP and Erdogan from 2002 until 2013, why the Hizmet movement stopped supporting the AKP, as well as the persecution of the Hizmet Movement in Turkey after the failed coup attack in 2016.

Turkish Interior Minister Soylu announced: 704 detention orders in 59 cities against Gülen followers

Turkish police detained 543 of 704 arrest warrants as part of an investigation into the financial activities of followers of the Gülen movement, according to the ministry of internal affairs, citing the country’s interior minister. The operation is carried out simultaneous across 59 cities. (1)

Interior Minister stated that the operation, which started in the morning after 8 months of meticulous work, was carried out to decipher the current structure of the Gulen Movement, the supply of new personnel and financial resources. According to Interior Minister Soylu, the operation was carried out by the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department (KOM), the Counterterrorism Bureau (TEM) and the Cybercrime Department in coordination with the Security General Directorate’s intelligence unit and the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). (1)

Interior Minister Soylu made a statement on the operation together with Turgut Aslan, the Chief Advisor to the President. Soylu said, “This money transfer, which took place over 8 months, both via cargo, ATM and people who do not know each other, is entire of foreign origin. Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) really has a great contribution here, the successful follow-up of each of the security units separately. This systematic and regular money transfer has been determined as a result of an operational and operational understanding. There is a system that is transferred to the members of this organization by the managers of the organization abroad, between 3 and 6 thousand liras (160 to 320 euros), in order to keep the organization in Turkey alive and to maintain the financial structure of the organization. Among the methods are cardless transactions, hiding in cargo and physical meetings.(2)

The suspects are accused of distributing or receiving financial aid sent by Gülen followers abroad to the families of those imprisoned or suspended from public office for affiliation with the Gülen movement.

After the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a major purge of state institutions under the pretext of fighting the coup. More than 130,000 public officials, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces,   were summarily dismissed from their jobs for alleged membership of or affiliation with “terrorist organizations”, with the emergency decree laws that are not subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary control. .

Victims of Turkey’s post-coup oppression say that they and their families face serious financial and psychological problems because of what the government and its supporters call hate speech, which prevents them from living a normal life, finding a job and supporting their families.

 

Human Rights activist and Deputy HDP Omer Faruk Gergeelioglu shows his reaction against the operation with the following words

“We are experiencing fires in our hearts for the young people who committed suicide, they are trying to break the hands reaching out to those who can commit suicide!!!

We call it a “crime against humanity”, they are killing the last crumbs of their humanity with their hands!!!”

1. https://www.icisleri.gov.tr/feto-operasyonunda-543-supheli-gozaltina-alindi

2. https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/ankarada-feto-operasyonu-bakan-soylu-704-gozalti-karari-alindi-543-kisi-yakalandi-42155305