Saturday, February 20, 2010

A letter from Mr. Muharrem Erbey from the Diyarbakir High Security Prison

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 00:00

To the Press and the Public Opinion

Greetings from the Diyarbakir High Security Prison,

At 4:50 am on December 24, 2009 Thursday, the police broke into my house and private legal office, searched my car, and raided the Diyarbakir Office of the Human Rights Association (HRA) which I chair seizing twelve hard discs, compact discs, digital versatile discs, books and other documents that belonged to the HRA. I was denied a right to call my lawyer and was forcibly taken to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to testify. At the Prosecutor’s Office, myself and the mayors and executives of the Peace and Democracy Party, who were detained on the same day as part of a coordinated detention “operation”, were subjected to degrading treatment, which aimed at our individual and institutional dignities through practices such as exposure to the press and the public in handcuffs. I was interrogated in relation the activities and projects that I carried out in legal civic platforms such as the HRA and in international meetings, as if they had been criminal acts. I testified to having committed to all of the attributed acts and assured the Prosecutor that I would maintain my work on these grounds following my release.

The following issues were raised during my interrogation at the Prosecutor’s Office on charges of being “member of an illegal organization”:

-That I wrote projects for securing funds for training programs and seminars on the prevention of child abuse and promotion of women’s rights;
-That I had insulted the (Turkish) State in platforms abroad, such as the Swedish, British and Belgian parliaments and the United Nations;
-That I had participated in the “Workshop for a Civil and Democratic Constitution” organized by the Democratic Society Congress with the participation of civil society institutions;
-That I had frequently met with Osman Baydemir, the Mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality whom I work with as his legal consultant and lawyer;
-That I had appeared in Roj TV for an interview (Even though I have given interviews hundreds of times to numerous press and broadcasting institutions over the last two years);
-I had made hundreds of press statements over the last two years, not even a single of which had been made an object of investigation or legal suit. Throughout this interrogation, which resulted in my arrest, I was questioned in relation to these press statements on the allegation that I had insulted the army and the police, praised and motivated the KCK and incited people to action through them.

Accepting the testimony of an undisclosed witness “X” as evidence, the Public Prosecutor reasoned that I had engaged in all these acts on behalf of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and transferred my case to the Investigative Prosecutor’s Office.

Here, the Investigative Prosecutor began his questioning as to the reason why I was entering the cases relating human rights violations as a defense attorney without charging any fee. I testified that as a human rights activist I provided free legal service to persons that apply to the HRA as victims of human rights violations in areas such as torture and maltreatment, right to life, personal security, mine explosions, and the freedom of expression and conscience. I stated that it was not right to criminalize when the range of activities that human rights defenders pursue everywhere are carried out in Diyarbakir; that, as human rights defenders, we were ethically bound to take into consideration not the “political identity” but the “victim status” of our applicants; and that we were acting according to this principle no matter if the applicant is accused of being connected to the PKK or the father of a Turkish soldier or the wife of a police officer or a village guard or a victim of the headscarf ban et cetera. My lawyers made the same argument in their defense. Yet the Prosecutor asked for my arrest reasoning that I had acted in the name of the KCK. We were brought into the Prison around 4:30 am.

Since the year 2000, I have been working with the HRA at different positions as a member and executive. For the past two years, I have been the Chair of the HRA Diyarbakir Office and the Vice Chair of the HRA Headquarters. I have carried out all my actions observing nothing but my conscience. Like all human rights defenders, our job is to research, monitor, document, advocate for the rights of the complainants that apply to us. We do this as voluntary and free service. It is our job to prepare projects for disadvantaged populations, such as women and children. All the projects that I have prepared as a signatory so far have been officially announced, publicly implemented and institutionally accountable projects. It is my belief that the reason why I am currently in prison has nothing to with the fact that I prepared these projects. It is because the fact that our projects targeted Kurdish people has created discontent on behalf of certain authorities.

Since its foundation in 1988, the HRA Diyarbakir Office receives invitations from all around the world for participating in conferences, panels and meetings. We are invited to these platforms to present the situation of human rights in our region with regards to the Kurdish issue, children and women’s rights, social and economic rights, freedom of expression and the more. Not only we are invited to these occasions through public channels, but we receive visas through these official invitation letters. All my speeches abroad have been concerned with the state of human rights in Turkey where I tried to give a critical account of legal and administrative practices on the basis of objective data. I have persistently declared violence and aggression as illegitimate means of pursuing rights struggles, no matter sponsored or carried out by whom. In all different platforms where I represented the HRA, I gave contextual accounts on the situation of human rights in the Kurdish region. A considerable decrease in human rights violations was observed in the Kurdish region between 1999 and 2005, thanks to a period of relative cessation in the intensity of armed conflict. This situation has been reversed since 2006 in parallel with the rise, once again, of armed tension. In all our statements, we call on bringing this situation of armed violence to an end while at the same time criticizing the disproportionate use of force in security forces’ intervention into public dissent and demonstrations; such as in the case of juveniles who were sentenced to between 10 and 25 years of imprisonment in relation to actions such as responding to the police violence with stones or making victory signs.

We have repeatedly declared our support for the Government’s “Democratic Opening Process”, while also suggesting that its scope has to be widened so as to really open the way for bringing the blood-shed around Kurdish issue to an end, and preventing torture, discrimination and other kinds of human rights violations which continue to shame Turkey. In this context, that the “Democratic Opening Process” have started with the policing of “human rights” is both very concerning and much meaningful.

We, the human rights defenders, have always emphasized that it is vital to take concrete and radical democratic steps for bringing the human loss to an end. We shall continue to advocate a form of politics based on promoting right to a dignified life to all. We have always supported Turkey’s accession to the European Union and called on Turkey to comply with the terms and recommendations set down in EU Progress Reports –i.e. in the realm of constitutional reforms, the promotion of three generations of human rights, Kurdish issue and discrimination- for promoting the democratization process in Turkey and bringing armed conflict to an end.

Since its foundation, the HRA has been locally and internationally acknowledged and praised for its dedicated, sustained and impartial struggle for the promotion of human rights. We have not turned down applicant who resorted to our offices in demand for advocacy; we have not discriminated anyone on the basis of ethnic or sexual identity or political belief.

The concept of human rights evokes the idea of freedom all over the world. While the harassment of human rights defenders has long been a common purchase under the despotic and repressive regimes of the Third World, it is very unfortunate that in Turkey, a European country, the Vice Chair of HRA, the oldest human rights organisation in Turkey, is currenly under arrest in connection with his human rights activities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is organized around three basic values: Justice, Equality and Freedom. Upholding these principles is at the core of the HRA’s objectives as an impartial autonomous civil society organization. It is this principled attitude of the HRA that is attacked by the authorities.

Recently, discrimination against peoples of other ethnic, religious origins and convictions have increased in Turkey. The Turkish nationalist groups are under serious suspicion of taking a lead in the organization of these actions which have turned into lynching. The HRA has been and will remain being against these discriminatory practices and lynches.

We have supported the incision of the dark organizations within the military and civilian bureaucracy through the infamous Ergenekon case. Yet, stil has not yet reached to the Kurdish region, tens thousands of extra-judicial killings, unidentified political murders, deaths in custody and enforced disappearances have remained outside of the thick indictments against the Ergenekon gang, despite the existence of contrary evidence. The HRA Diyarbakir office has been organizing sit-ins for the past forty nine weeks for the disclosure of 17.500 political murders and mass graves in the Kurdish Region. It is these acts of advocacy for rights and civil disobedience that has incited the brunt of authorities against us.

Yet, these politics of repression against the HRA is not new. Since its Foundation in 1986, twenty-two members and executives of the HRA have been murdered by “unidentified” perpetrators, hundreds of them have been tortures and/or arrested. This politics of intimidation have been particularly severe against the executives of the HRA headquarters and those of the Diyarbakir Office; Akin Birdal, a former HRA Chair and the Honorary Vice-Chair of the FIDH, survived an assassination attempt in 1998, successive chairs of the Diyarbakir office have confronted with unremitting campaigns of legal pressure through numerous cases, all which have ended up in acquittal.

Pressures against Kurdish politicians and mayors have been intensified since the March 29, 2009 general elections. An overwhelming majority of active Kurdish politicians have so far been either legally pursued or under arrest. Currently, nine hundred Kurdish politicians, including hundreds of elected local government representatives, are under arrest on unevidenced charges of criminal activity. This is a serious attack on the right to assembly and freedom of expression.

It is a result of the strictly monolithic nation-state policies that have been pursued since the foundation of the Republic that Kurdish issue remains to be one of the most historically rooted and pressing ethnic and political issues in the world today. The Republic’s denialist politicies against “other” ethnic, cultural and religious identities, the politics of mass exile, murder and fear that has brought the Kurdish issue to a deadlock with irreparable human loss. Despite the talks of “Democratic Opening”, the legal and administrative amendments that have been pursued since 2005 in the Turkish Penal Code, Anti-Terror Law, The Law on the Duties and Authorities of the Police and the Law of Criminal Prosecution, have meant the intensification of the police and judiciary’s incursion into the lives and personal security of the citizens. This forms also the background of detentions and arrests pursued against us. Today, the social antagonism is unprecedentedly tense and the ground for the explosion of communal strife is threateningly ripe in Turkey. It is urgent that everyone should do his or her best to act according to commonsense, decrease the tension, promote the conditions for a lay down of the arms, oppose bans and violations on civic rights, advocate for the realization of the requirements for ethnic and cultural pluralism, the strengthening of a powerful democracy, and the creation of an environment of mutual trust in order for overcoming this impending threat.

The ceiling of the prison ward where I am kept together with three other friends is designed in the shape of a coffin lid, it is extremely humid inside and we have lost touch with nature. Still we not mind insofar as we carry the hope that this deprivation of our liberty would contribute to the ending of this blood-shed. I take responsibility for all my actions which I did in the name of protecting and promoting human dignity. I shall not refrain from doing what I have done so far, even if it brings me life imprisonment.

Like many other countries, Turkey hosts a wealth of ethnic and cultural diversity. There are over six hundred linguistic and five hundred ethnic communities in the world living within a hundred and eighty-four independent states. Have states like Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain who have recognized the rights of their native ethnic and linguistic communities been divided or become more powerfully integrated?

There are some nine-hundred of us who are currently in prison. But we are hopeful. Because we do not have any other choice, but to live together. We are sailing in the same ship; either we will wreck or survive the impending catastrophe together. I greet you with all my faith that 2010 will be the year when we open a new page towards light and life together.

Muharrem ERBEY
Vice President, HRA Headquarters
Chair, HRA Diyarbakır Office

D-Type High Security Prison
C-5 /1