Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, subcommittee members. It's always a pleasure to be in front of you with respect to human rights concerns around the world.
As you will see in a moment, we have particular reason to be appreciative of the attention you are turning to Turkey. That is because on June 6 of last year, my colleague Taner Kilic, the dedicated and hard-working Chair of Amnesty lnternational's Turkey section and a highly respected human rights and refugee lawyer, was arrested. Over 10 months later, he remains behind bars. He has been locked up for 316 days.
The charges he faces? Supporting a terrorist organization.
The evidence to back up the charges? That a popular messaging application, ByLock, is alleged to be on his phone.
Despite the fact that detailed, expert reports were provided to the government; the court clearly demonstrated that he had not downloaded ByLock and there was no sign of it on his phone; and not a scintilla of evidence was brought forward by prosecutors to demonstrate that he had downloaded and used it, he remains locked up. The government alleges that evidence of ByLock on a cellphone is prima facie evidence of involvement in the events surrounding the coup attempt.
One month later, on July 5, 2017, my colleague ldil Eser, the infectiously passionate Director of Amnesty lnternational's Turkish section, the woman who essentially does my job in Turkey, was also arrested, along with nine other prominent human rights leaders. Nearly four months later, she was released, but only conditionally, while the trial against her and the other human rights activists proceeds.
The charges they face? Supporting a terrorist organization. The evidence to back up the charges this time? Almost entirely drawn from ldil's Amnesty International human rights work.
The so-called terrorist organization that Taner and ldil and the other human rights advocates are said to support is, of course, the movement that the authorities have come to term FETO, the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, led by Turkish religious leader Fethullen Gülen, who President Erdogan accuses of being responsible for the country's July 2016 coup attempt.
Amnesty International has been around for 57 years. We have taken on and confronted the world's most belligerent, dictatorial, and rights-violating governments and leaders during nearly six decades of researching and campaigning to expose and end the human rights violations for which they are responsible. And nothing like this has ever happened, anywhere, any time, during those 57 years. Never before have the two senior leaders of an Amnesty International section been arrested and imprisoned because of their human rights work.
I assure you, we are passionately of the view that defending human rights does not amount to terrorism.
We thought we had finally seen a breakthrough in Taner's case just over six weeks ago, when he was ordered conditionally released by a Turkish trial court at the end of January. But within a stunningly fast 24 hours, that release order was appealed by the prosecutor; that appeal was accepted by another court, which continued his detention; he was transferred into gendarmerie custody; and the first court that had ordered him released 24 hours earlier simply changed its mind and agreed to uphold the ruling to continue his detention. There he remains. By the time he has his next court appearance, he will have been imprisoned for more than one year.
Let me tell you that in Turkey today, the wheels of justice turn unbelievably slowly, if at all, but Taner's experience in those 24 breakneck hours over the span of January 31 and February 1 make it clear that the wheels of injustice can and do turn at a spectacularly breakneck pace.
I begin there not necessarily because Taner and ldil's experience over the last year is unique amidst the myriad human rights violations that have become the reality for thousands upon thousands of Turks; nor because their treatment was necessarily the harshest or the most cruel. I begin there because I would suggest to you that the cavalier, defiant willingness of Turkish authorities to target Amnesty lnternational—an organization that has, I like to think, developed a reputation for credibility and global respect over many decades—in a more deliberate manner than any other government has, is a dramatic bellwether indication of how pervasive and concerning the massive and widespread human rights crackdown in Turkey over the past 21 months has become.
Let's bring it closer home, to Canada. There are at least six Canadian citizens, dual Turkish-Canadian nationals, known to Amnesty International who have also been ensnared in the post-coup crackdown, at least four of whom have now been convicted and sentenced, one of whom remains imprisoned and held in solitary conditions 20 months later, waiting for his trial to begin, and several of whom are pursuing appeals. Most face the same circumstantial allegations that have been brought against legions of Turks since July 2016, targeted as terrorist supporters because ByLock was on their phone, because of the schools they send their children to, or because of the banks they use.
Turkey and Canada arguably have a close and important relationship, evidenced among other ways by the fact that we are of course close NATO allies. However, our friend and ally denied Canadian diplomats consular access to most of these prisoners for at least 18 months, which is another measure of the state of human rights in Turkey.
What's the wider picture? Turkey tops the global list for the number of journalists behind bars, with over 100 journalists currently in pretrial detention, and 180 media outlets are permanently shut down. This puts Turkey ahead of such notorious competition as China and Egypt.
The state of emergency in Turkey has been renewed six times since July 2016, paving the way for unlawful restrictions on human rights and allowing the government to pass laws beyond the effective scrutiny of Parliament and the courts. Over 50,000 people are in pretrial detention, accused of links to terror groups. Among those detained under these accusations are journalists, political activists, lawyers, human rights defenders, and academics. A similar number were released on bail and are subject to reporting requirements. Only a tiny minority of them are actually accused of having taken part in the actual events of the attempted coup.
The judiciary, itself decimated by the dismissal or detention of up to one third of Turkey's judges and prosecutors, remains under extreme political pressure. Arbitrary, lengthy, and punitive pretrial detention and fair trial violations continue routinely. Thousands of criminal prosecutions have been brought, including under laws prohibiting defamation and on trumped-up terrorism-related charges, based on people's peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Over 107,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs without due process. Tens of thousands have now had their jobs restored. Many others have not. Most of those who have been dismissed cannot continue with their professions at all, and none of them can leave the country, as their passports have been cancelled.
Hundreds of civil society groups have been shut down under state of emergency decrees, including Gündem Çocuk, the leading children's rights NGO in Turkey, women's rights NGOs, and groups that assist refugees and internally displaced people. Civil society representatives, as well as the general population, are widely practising self-censorship in the country now, deleting social media posts and refraining from making public comments for fear of dismissal from their jobs, closure of their organizations, or criminal prosecution.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Despite all of this, it's safe to say that Turkey has received a relatively free ride from the international community—little censure, mild criticism at best, and certainly no sanctions or anything punitive in nature. The UN Human Rights Council has just wrapped up a session in Geneva. It would have been an opportune, obvious moment and forum for states to speak out and express concern about what is happening. This was not to be. Hardly a word of concern was uttered—sadly, I have to tell you, including from Canada.
Why the silence? In a world of strained and shifting global alliances and relationships, we don't want to come down too hard on an ally? We don't want to ruffle the feathers of a country to which we continue to look to do the overwhelming bulk of heavy lifting in protecting Syrian refugees, more than three million of whom have found shelter in Turkey? European countries in particular are determined that they will remain there. Or do we not want to offend a country that, despite the rather inconvenient distraction of their current olive branch incursion into northern Syria, is viewed to be a key partner in the campaign to defeat ISIS?
All of that may be, and there are inevitably many other geopolitical, economic, and trade considerations that account for the international community's tepid reaction. But ignoring this crisis, refusing to take a strong stand, does no one—Turkish citizens, Canadian citizens imprisoned, Syrian refugees in the country, Kurdish populations in the region—any favours. It does none of the concerns about stability, relationships, and co-operation any favours, as a wave of continuing, extensive human rights violations ultimately serves only to create more instability and insecurity. This has to change.
As regard for human rights continues to plummet in Turkey, Canada and other nations can no longer look away. Friendship in fact calls on us to speak out and press for improvement. Taking a strong stand with respect to the rights of imprisoned human rights defenders, imprisoned journalists, and imprisoned Canadians, and for the rule of law, demanding that the state of emergency come to an end, would be a very good place to start.