Litigation |

We use litigation as a tool for strategic intervention to strengthen human rights protection in Turkey and to improve access to justice. We seek to influence the advancement of human rights standards by supporting lawyers, human rights defenders and NGOs to bring successful cases before national authorities, as well as international bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights and UN monitoring mechanisms.

Our litigation work mainly focuses on the infringement of rights occurring in relation to state of emergency policies and practices. We also assist with cases that highlight important shortcomings in the system of human rights protection and the rule of law in Turkey, striving to set precedence and trigger change in legislation or administrative practices. We directly support applicants or their representatives to access and use available remedies, and submit third party interventions and expert opinions on key legal issues.

Currently, we dedicate a substantial amount of our work to the following areas:

  • Restriction and suspension of rights under the state of emergency

  • The impact of the fight against terrorism and the derogation regime on the rights of suspects in criminal proceedings, particularly the right to liberty and security

  • Civil and political rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly

  • Protection against arbitrary interference with personal autonomy, private and family life, the right to respect for freedom of thought and conscience, and the right to property

  • Prohibition of discrimination

Our Litigation Work |

The case concerns the arrest and detention of the applicant, a respected human rights lawyer and former Director of Amnesty International Turkey. It epitomises some of the most fundamental human rights challenges in Turkey today, involving widely documented restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly of human rights defenders (HRDs), a rapidly closing civil society space under the emergency regime, and the broadening reach of anti-terrorism legislation applied against HRDs with wide-reaching implications for public debate, participation in public affairs and the protection of human rights. Against this background, the intervention outlines the factual context of the situation facing HRDs in Turkey. It highlights international and comparative standards governing obligations towards them, including the limits prescribed by Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It further provides comments on key principles necessary for a rule of law approach to the application of the criminal law, against the legal and practical pattern of excessive resort to criminal law against HRDs in Turkey. Based on all these grounds, the intervention concludes that “the criminalisation of HRDs requires particularly rigorous oversight by the Court, given its impact on an array of rights, including in this case Articles 5, 10, 11 and 18, on the authority of criminal law and on the ability to defend human rights in Turkey.”

The case concerns the dismissal of a public institution employee pursuant to Emergency Decree no. 667 due to his alleged links to an organisation prescribed as terrorist by the State. Relevant to the situation of almost 130,000 persons dismissed from their jobs during the period of the State of Emergency, the case raises significant questions regarding procedural rights in employment proceedings leading to the dismissal of state employees on grounds related to national security, including under a State of Emergency as well as the application of the principles of legality, legal certainty and non-retroactivity in the field of counter-terrorism. The Interveners address the following matters in the intervention i) the applicability of the criminal limb of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Convention) to dismissal proceedings in cases where the proceedings involve a determination of facts which constitute a “criminal offence” as understood under the autonomous meaning of the term in the Convention; ii)  the lack of procedural guarantees in the dismissal process necessary to comply with Article 6, in particular the principle of presumption of innocence and iii) the application of the principles of legality, legal certainty and non-retroactivity to dismissal proceedings, where they determine membership of, participation in or association with, a terrorist group, including with regard to Article 7 of the Convention and the application of state of emergency decrees to events that occurred before the declaration of the State of Emergency.

The case of Telek & Others v Turkey, concerns the cancellation of passports of three academics who, together with more than two thousand others, supported a “Petition for Peace” and as a result were prosecuted, dismissed from academic institutions and banned from public service under state of emergency legislation in Turkey. Despite the state of emergency having come to an end in July 2018, the applicants, like others, are still deprived of a valid passport, unable to travel or to engage in academic work at home or abroad, and have had no opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of the measures taken against them. Their case forms part of what has been described as a severe blow to academic freedom and democratic institutions in Turkey in recent years. On behalf of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project, Amnesty International, Article 19 and PEN International, a third party intervention was submitted to the Court urging the Court to apply the Convention in light of relevant international standards on academic freedom and on the fundamental nature of the right to remedy in situations of emergency. The brief also addresses the current lack of legal remedies for the widespread practice of passport cancellations in Turkish courts.

The case of Mehmet Osman Kavala v. Turkey, currently before the ECtHR, concerns the October 2017 arrest and pre-trial detention of a highly regarded civil society leader, publisher and human rights defender. Mehmet Osman Kavala has worked with and supported a variety of civil projects aimed at promoting open dialogue, peace, minority and human rights, and democratic values. While an official indictment has not been filed, charges against him include: attempting to abolish the constitutional order and overthrow the government by using force under Articles 309 and 321 of the Turkish Criminal Code, on account of his support of and involvement in the organisation and financing of Gezi protests and alleged involvement in corruption and the failed coup d’etat. The case against Kavala is emblematic of prevalent trends in Turkey, where arbitrary detention and prosecution of human rights defenders is widespread, with insidious implications for human rights and the rule of law. On behalf of the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project and PEN International, a third party intervention was submitted to the Court, outlining international law standards, including on the protection of human rights defenders.

Ayşe Çelik was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to a custodial sentence for the broad-reaching and ill-defined crime of ‘disseminating propaganda’ in favour of a terrorist organisation (under Article 7/(2) of Law no. 3713 on the Fight Against Terrorism). Her purported offence consists of comments made during a telephone call to a television show stating that in South East Turkey “unborn children, mothers and people are being killed” and that the media must “not keep silent”. Helen Duffy and Philip Leach presented a joint expert opinion to the Turkish Constitutional Court in September 2018, examining international law standards on the criminalisation and prosecution of crimes of expression.