The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey violated the rights of Amnesty International’s then-branch chairman when it imprisoned him for more than 14 months.
Turkey had imprisoned Taner Kılıç from June 2017 through August 2018, alleging that he was a member of a religious movement led by Fethullah Gülen that the country says orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 2016.
The group is designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey but not the U.S. and most other countries.
Kılıç is a refugee rights lawyer who now serves as Amnesty International Turkey’s honorary chair. Turkish courts sentenced him to six years and three months in prison, but Amnesty International said the verdict is pending in Turkey’s highest court of appeals.
The European Court ruled that Turkey had unlawfully detained Kılıç as he awaited trial, saying the country’s evidence was “incapable of giving rise to a reasonable suspicion.”
Turkey connected Kılıç to the movement by alleging he downloaded a messaging service, subscribed to newspapers and had his children educated in schools allegedly associated with Gülen’s movement, which Ankara refers to as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation.”
The court said “numerous” expert reports concluded Kılıç never downloaded the ByLock messaging service, adding that Turkey’s courts “totally ignored” the development.
“This was a blunt finding, without any clear indication of the basis on which the authorities had reached this conclusion, and particularly what data had been used,” the court said in a release.
The court also ruled that Turkey violated Kılıç’s freedom of expression in bringing a second set of criminal proceedings against him. The court said the proceedings were “directly linked” to Kılıç’s activity as a human rights defender.
The court unanimously ordered Turkey to pay Kılıç a total of 34,500 euros — about $37,000.
“This long-awaited European Court ruling confirms what we have known from the start: that Taner Kılıç – a life-long human rights defender was arbitrarily deprived of his liberty when jailed in a high security prison on trumped up charges,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director.
Muižnieks said Turkey’s allegations were “comprehensively exposed as baseless.”
“This politically motivated attempt to silence a human rights defender is part of the Turkish authorities’ wider crackdown on rights and freedoms and those who defend them,” he added. “Taner’s conviction must be quashed.”