On Monday 5th June a delegation of ten international observers, four from UK trade unions, attended the hearing of eight trade unionists in Ankara, Turkey. This is the sixth trial and details of the allegations and people charges are below.
One of the defendants Gonul Erden joined remotely as she is still being held under house arrest and Selma Atabey who has been imprisoned since July 2022 was brought to the courthouse from prison.
The defendants all had an opportunity to speak and their legal team also addressed the court.
The key issue being raised was that evidence against the group has come from an anonymous witness who was not in court to be cross examined and whose claims are completely unsubstantiated. In fact, the legal team had produced evidence that showed the allegations could not be substantiated but this seemed to be ignored. The anonymous witness has apparently made similar witness statements about 80 other people.
There was also an issue about books that were found in their homes, yet these same books were freely available to buy in local stores.
The key requests from the legal team were for Selma to be released from prison, Gonul’s house arrest to be lifted and administrative control orders to be removed.
At the end of the hearing there was a ten-minute adjournment. When we returned it was announced that Selma was to be released but in to house detention. All other restrictions would remain in place for all the trade unionists.
Following the case, we returned to the KESK offices for a press briefing.
This started with a briefing from the lawyers and was then followed by solidarity messages from various organisations. We then had the privilege of meeting Selma when she was released from jail.
The next hearing will be in October 2023 and all impositions on the defendants will stay in place until then.
It was deeply concerning to witness a complete lack of justice where an anonymous witness statement can lead to people facing imprisonment, house arrest and other restrictive measures even where evidence is clearly presented to show the lack of truth and inconsistencies.
In the lawyers summing up of the case they stated that ‘“the judiciary is used as an instrument to suppress trade unions.” This certainly seemed to be the case from our observations.
Details of the case:
On 25 May 2021, anti-terror unit police raided SES leaders’ houses and arrested them. They were taken to the anti-terror unit of the security department in Ankara.
After 4 days, they were referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara. The public prosecutor accuses the SES executives of membership (Turkish Penal Code Article 314) and leadership of an armed illegal organisation (Turkish Penal Code Article 220). Not surprisingly, there is no concrete evidence about these accusations.
The following colleagues face leadership accusation:
1) Ms Selma Atabey, co-president 2) Ms Gonul Erden, former co-president, 3) Ms Bedriye Yorgun, former president, 4) Mr Fikret Calagan, former executive committee member, 5) Ms Belkis Yurtsever, former executive committee member,
The following colleagues face membership accusation; 1) Ms Rona Temelli, former executive of the SES Branch in Ankara, 2) Mr Ramazan Tas, former executive of the SES Branch in Ankara, 3) Mr Erdal Turan, former executive of the SES Branch in Ankara
The public prosecutor asked the judge to declare confidentiality on the file. The judge immediately approved the prosecutor’s demand. The legal team had no access to the details about the file until the court approved the indictment.
The judge who examined imposed a travel ban on all colleagues. In addition to the travel ban, the first 5 colleagues (the group that faces the leadership accusation) have to go to the police station once a week. Unfortunately, the public prosecutor appealed the release of 8 colleagues. As a result of the appeal, Ms Gonul Erden who is the former co-president of SES was arrested by police officers on 22 September. She has been in prison since 22nd September 2021. Gonul Erden was released on 13 March 2023.
Selma Atabey, the successor of Gönül, was arrested on 3 July 2022 and has been in prison since.