Türkiye: UN experts call for end to harassment of human rights defenders
Five UN-appointed independent human rights experts called on Tuesday for Türkiye to stop using counter-terrorism legislation to intimidate human rights defenders and to immediately release Sebnem Korur Fincancı, a senior medic and anti-torture expert.
“We have documented many cases where counter-terrorism legislation and other criminal provisions have been used to harass, arrest, detain and convict civil society actors in Türkiye, including Dr. Fincancı, on spurious grounds”, the experts said in a statement.
On 26 October, Ms. Fincancı, who helped develop UN reference standards on the investigation and documentation of torture cases, known as the Istanbul Protocol, was arrested at her home on unclear grounds.
Her detainment is believed to be in retaliation for her publicly calling for investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons and associated deaths involving the Turkish military.
“Dr. Fincancı’s arrest appears part of a deliberate pattern of applying counter-terrorism legislation to discredit human rights defenders and organizations and interrupt their vital human rights and medical work”, they added.
These types of attacks aim to shrink safe civic space, undermine the rule of law, and encroach upon fundamental freedoms and democratic values, according to the Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteurs.
“Human rights defenders and medical practitioners’ ability to speak truth to power must be protected”, underscored the independent experts, stressing that exposing human rights violations is “one of the cornerstones of democratic societies”, and that exercising rights of freedom of expression and association, are “protected rights under international human rights law”.
“Detention pending investigation beyond an initial period of interview is an exceptional measure and must be subject to judicial authorization as to its continuing lawfulness and proportionality”, they reminded.
Call to Türkiye
The Special Rapporteurs urged the Turkish authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Ms. Fincancı as well as other civil society actors detained for politically motivated purposes.
They also advocated for access to fundamental safeguards and the protection of defenders mental and physical integrity – both in and outside of detention.
Since 1988, Türkiye has been a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
After ratifying, States parties are obliged take all measures to prevent torture and similar ill-treatment or punishment, and to investigate and prosecute related crimes.
Threats of arrest and imprisonment and judicial intimidation cause high levels of distress and anxiety, which could amount to psychological inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of international law.
And in 2003, Türkiye ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention.
Call to take action
The UN experts have expressed their views on this case with the Government of Türkiye and requested the authorities to immediately take interim measures to protect the mental and physical integrity of Dr. Fincancı and to end the judicial harassment of those who defend the rights of others.
Special Rapporteurs are mandated to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.
Click here for the names of the Special Rapporteurs who have signed the statement.