Arbitrary arrest of women’s rights defenders in Diyarbakır

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), the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği-İHD) and the 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 release them immediately and unconditionally. They urge the Turkish government to end judicial harassment against all human rights defenders, including Kurdish women’s rights defenders.

On the morning of March 16, 2022, police raided the homes of 24 women’s rights defenders and activists from different civil society organizations, trade unions and members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Diyarbakır.

As a result of these raids, the following human rights defenders and activists were arrested and taken to the Anti-Terrorism Department of Diyarbakır Provincial Security Directorate: Ms. Adalet KayaChair of the Rosa Women’s Association (RWA) Board of Directors; Nevin Oymanmember of the management board of RWA; Fatma Gültekinmember of RWA; Zekiye Guleractivist of the Free Women’s Movement (Tevgera Jinen Azad – TJA); Remziye Sızıcıdistrict co-chairman of HDP Yenişehir; Filiz Buluttekinco-mayor of the commune of Sur, who was replaced by a syndic; Fatma Yildizhan Female Secretary of the Diyarbakır Health and Social Services Workers’ Union (SES); Nihal YanikTÜMBEL-SEN (Union of all municipal civil servants) co-president; Hatice EfeEğitim-Sen (Union of Education and Science Workers) Education Secretary No. 1; Bahar Ulugwomen’s secretary of the United Transport Workers’ Union (BTS); Sakine Karadeniz ; Birsen Gunes ; Gulsen Ozer ; Muhibet Ozcanli ; Fatma Kavmaz ; Esma Efetürk ; Xezal Yıldırım ; Jale Okkan ; Yıldız Kardes ; Emine Aksahin ; Songul Kapanci ; Emine Kaya ; Evin Yelboga ; and Safiye Akdag.

A 24-hour ban was imposed on visits by lawyers to female detainees, which was later lifted following objections from their lawyers. Nevertheless, the police did not start taking their statements until around midnight on March 17, 2022. On charges of “belonging to a terrorist organization” (Article 314/2 of the Turkish Criminal Code), the police questioned the women on rallies, demonstrations, rallies and press releases that took place in Diyarbakır, in particular on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, September 1, 2021; the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25, 2021; International Women’s Day, 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 in accordance with the decisions of justices of the peace and sent to Diyarbakır prison. Yıldız Kardeş was released by the prosecutor’s office and the other human rights defenders and activists were released under judicial supervision.

The undersigned organizations regret that this is not the first time that women’s rights defenders in Diyarbakır have been targeted. Indeed, similar raids and waves of arrests have already taken place, notably in May 2020, July 2020 and April 2021 as part of investigations against the activities of TJA and the Rosa Women’s Association. These investigations have resulted in the detention and conviction of several women’s rights defenders on 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, especially members of the HDP.

The Observatory, İHD and HRFT strongly condemn these raids and subsequent arrests of women’s rights defenders, which appear to be retaliation for their legitimate human rights activities. The undersigned organizations express their concern at the flagrant and repeated violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against all human rights defenders, including Kurdish women’s rights defenders.

We urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all of the aforementioned arbitrarily arrested women’s rights defenders and to drop 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 Turkish authorities to guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human rights law, and in particular in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkey has undertaken to respect and implement.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this program 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 mechanism for human rights defenders set up 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. With its headquarters and 31 branches and representations, İHD is the largest non-governmental organization for the defense of human rights in Turkey and has been a member of FIDH since 1996.

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey is an internationally recognized civil society organization that provides treatment and rehabilitation services to persons subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and their families, and has worked to prevent human rights violations, including torture since 1990.