A Turkish court has acquitted four rights activists in a retrial after Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned their July 2020 convictions on terrorism-related charges due to alleged links to a faith-based group targeted by the government, the Demirören news agency (DHA) reported on Tuesday.
Eleven human rights defenders, including refugee rights lawyer and honorary chair of Amnesty International’s Turkey section Taner Kılıç, were accused of terrorism for attending a meeting on İstanbul’s Büyükada island in 2017. They were targeted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who alleged that the meeting’s agenda was to plan the continuation of a coup attempt against his government on July 15, 2016.
The İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court sentenced Kılıç to more than six years in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and convicted rights activists Özlem Dalkıran, İdil Eser and Günal Kurşun for knowingly and willingly supporting such an organization, sentencing each to 25 months in prison, while acquitting the remaining seven human rights defenders.
The third chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in November, saying Dalkıran, Eser and Kurşun should be acquitted. Kılıç’s case was quashed on the grounds of an “incomplete investigation” and referred back to the first instance court.
After complying with the top court’s decision to overturn the convictions in March, the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court on Tuesday acquitted all four defendants of terrorism charges in their retrial, citing a lack of evidence.
Although the prosecutor stated in the indictment that there was evidence of accessing ByLock IPs related to Kılıç and requested a prison sentence ranging from seven years, six months to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization,” the court ruled that the evidence was insufficient.
ByLock is believed by Turkish authorities to be a secret communication tool among the members of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen whom Erdoğan blames for the attempted coup in 2016.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.
Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.