Eren Keskin has spent her entire career fighting for justice and freedom of speech and expression. She has proven that it’s the courage and actions of individuals that can bring the world forward – with her life at risk.
At the end of August, Eren Keskin was called to testify as a witness in court. At the same time she discovered that she was also under investigation for breaking the recently passed anti-terrorism laws and under investigations for crimes that could lead to life imprisonment. Keskin has been released “on bail” but has to report to the court every week. In addition, she stands accused of 99 other criminal acts. Two cases have been decided, and in both she has been found guilty. Both cases have been appealed to the Appeal Court. She twice narrowly escaped assassination attempts, both by unidentified men in public places. When I met lawyer Erin Keskin in September in Istanbul she told me that she had learned to live with the fear.
Kurdistan is not a forbidden word, but any use of the word has, for years, meant that whoever uses it is regarded as terrorist. In 1995, Keskin was sentenced to jail because she had used the word Kurdistan in an article. When she was in prison, she discovered the widespread abuse of women in Turkish jails. For the last 20 years she has litigated over 500 cases against the Turkish state, primarily for women who are raped and abused in jail. Eren Kerskin has focused on power abuse committed by civil servants, and has been successful in changing the Turkish definition of ‘rape’ to include forced penetration by not only a penis. The UN Fund for Victims of Torture supports her work with torture victims.
On 20 August the award-winning author and physicist, Asli Erdogan, was arrested. On 1 September Necmiye Alpay, also arrested. Both are in custody in Bakirkoy prison in Istanbul. Every week there is a peaceful demonstration outside the prison. Both women have been champions of the free press, editors of the opposition daily Özgür Gündem, members of its advisory board and columnists. They are now accused of being members of a terrorist organization and “undermin[ing] the national unity”. They need lawyers to defend them in the courts. But what is left of the rule of law when lawyers are arrested for having brought cases against the Turkish state?
By pressuring Turkish authorities to comply with the rule of law it is possible to support the Turks who fight for fair and legal proceedings, universal human rights, and freedom of expression.
The Economist report that after the failed coup on 15 July over 80 000 people have been arrested and that investigators seem more concerned whether those arrested have ties to the Gülen-network than to their participation in the attempted coup.
Turkish human rights organizations state that after 15 July over 3 000 judges have been deposed, of which 400 judges have been arrested. Before 15 July there were only 7 000 judges in Turkey. Further, earlier this year, many judges were removed from offices in the cities and in rural areas.
Turkish lawyers say that the legal system is now paralyzed, it moves so slowly that no one knows when cases come up. Lawyers show up in court when summoned, but there is rarely a prosecutor or judge. Several people have observed that many of the newly appointed judges do not know, or care about, the international law obligations by which Turkey is bound.
There is still a state of emergency in Turkey and President Erdogan justified on 1 September the need for the state of emergency because of the fight against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the fight against ISIL, and the fight against the banned Gülen- network. The President also stated that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not apply to Turkey as long as it is in a state of emergency. Further, Erdogan has extended the prison detention without judicial review from 3 to 30 days. In many cases, detainees are denied contact with a lawyer.
No one knows how long the state of emergency will last. It is important to support attorneys like Erin Keskin before all Turkish human rights lawyers are imprisoned. There are many individuals under investigation after the failed coup in Turkey who needs lawyers that can defend them. Finally, only dictators have political prisoners and who benefit from international silence.
The Vigdis Freedom Foundation supports Eren Kerkin; and partially funds the lawyers that defend her and her work as a lawyer defining other female human rights defenders.