Paris-Geneva-Ankara, March 30, 2022 – In the early hours of March 16, 2022, police raided the homes of 24 women’s rights defenders and activists in Diyarbakır, and arbitrarily detained them. On March 18, 2022, 11 of them were arrested. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği-İHD), and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT, Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı-TİHV) condemn this new attack against women’s rights defenders in Turkey and call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them. They urge the government of Turkey to halt judicial harassment against all human rights defenders, including Kurdish women’s rights defenders.
In the morning of March 16, 2022, police officers raided the homes of 24 women’s rights defenders and activists from different civil society organisations, unions and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members in Diyarbakır.
As a result of these raids the following rights defenders and activists were detained and brought to the Diyarbakır Provincial Security Directorate’s Anti-Terrorism Department: Mses. Adalet Kaya, Chair of the board of the Rosa Women’s Association (RWA) ; Nevin Oyman, member of the executive board of RWA ; Fatma Gültekin, member of RWA ; Zekiye Güler, Free Women’s Movement (Tevgera Jinen Azad – TJA) activist ; Remziye Sızıcı, HDP Yenişehir District Co-Chair ; Filiz Buluttekin, Sur Municipality Co-Mayor, who was replaced by a trustee ; Fatma Yıldızhan, Diyarbakır Health and Social Service Workers’ Union (SES) Women Secretary ; Nihal Yanık, TÜMBEL-SEN (Union of All Municipality Civil Servants) Co-Chair ; Hatice Efe, Eğitim-Sen (Education and Science Workers’ Union) No. 1 Education Secretary ; Bahar Uluğ, BTS (United Transport Workers Union) Women Secretary ; Sakine Karadeniz ; Birsen Güneş ; Gülşen Özer ; Muhibet Özcanlı ; Fatma Kavmaz ; Esma Efetürk ; Xezal Yıldırım ; Jale Okkan ; Yıldız Kardeş ; Emine Akşahin ; Songül Kapancı ; Emine Kaya ; Evin Yelboğa ; and Safiye Akdağ.
A 24-hour ban was imposed on lawyer visits to the women detained, that was later lifted following their lawyers’ objections. Nonetheless, the police started taking their statements only around midnight on March 17, 2022. Under charges of “membership to a terrorist organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Turkish Criminal Code), police questioned the women about assemblies, protests, gatherings and press statements that took place in Diyarbakır, including on the occasion of the World Peace Day, on September 1, 2021; the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25, 2021 ; International Women’s Day, on March 8, 2022 ; and Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.
On March 18, 2022, Jale Okkan, Emine Kaya, Sakine Karadeniz, Fatma Kavmaz, Remziye Sızıcı, Gülşen Özer, Esma Efetürk, Filiz Buluttekin, Bahar Uluğ, Songül Kapancı and Fatma Yıldızhan were arrested as per decisions by the Peace Criminal Judgeships and sent to Diyarbakır Prison. Yıldız Kardeş was released by the prosecutor’s office and the remaining human rights defenders and activists were released under judicial control measures.
The undersigned organisations deplore that this is not the first time that women’s rights defenders in Diyarbakır are targeted. Indeed, similar raids and waves of arrests already took place notably in May 2020, July 2020 and April 2021 within the scope of investigations against activities of TJA and the Rosa Women’s Association. These investigations resulted in the detention and conviction of several women’s rights defenders under various spurious charges, including under Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation which is systematically abused to judicially harass human rights defenders, journalists, dissidents, and opposition politicians, particularly HDP members.
The Observatory, İHD and HRFT strongly condemn these raids and subsequent arrests of women’s rights defenders, which seem to be in retaliation for their legitimate human rights activities. The undersigned organisations express their concern over the blatant and repeated violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association perpetrated by the authorities in Turkey against all human rights defenders, including Kurdish women’s rights defenders.
We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all the above-mentioned arbitrarily arrested women’s rights defenders and to lift all charges against them. We also urge the government to end all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against women’s rights defenders and all human rights defenders in Turkey. We further call on the authorities in Turkey to guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human right law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that Turkey has committed to respecting and implementing.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
The Human Rights Association (İHD, İnsan Hakları Derneği) was founded on July 17, 1986, by 98 people, including lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, but mainly relatives of political prisoners. The sole objective of İHD is to carry out activities in defense of human rights and freedoms. Together with its headquarters and 31 branches and representations, İHD is Turkey’s biggest non-governmental human rights organisation and has been a member of FIDH since 1996.
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey is an internationally recognized civil society organization that has been offering treatment and rehabilitation services for those subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment along with their families, and has been working to prevent human rights violations most notably torture since 1990.