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Human Rights Watch has slammed the Turkish government for prosecution of human rights defender Ozturk Turkdogan on charges of membership in a terrorist organisation. The Erdoğan government has a policy of bringing baseless criminal charges against people involved in legitimate and peaceful civil society activities, said Human Rights Watch. Ozturk Turkdogan , co-chair of the Human Rights Association, Turkey’s oldest human rights group, is slated to face trial in Ankara on Tuesday on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.” If convicted, he could face a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison. Türkdoğan is also being prosecuted in two other trials on charges of “insulting” the interior minister and “insulting the Turkish nation, Republic of Turkey, state institutions and bodies,” each with a possible penalty of up to two years in prison. All indictments against him were prepared in December 2021.

“The prosecution of Öztürk Türkdoğan, the long-term co-chair of the Human Rights Association, is an attempt to criminalize legitimate human rights work and the right to free speech,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that Ankara prosecutors prepared three indictments against Türkdoğan in a single month for speeches and statements that do not advocate violence and were made over several years, points to a political order from above behind these criminal proceedings.” On March 19, 2021, police briefly detained Türkdoğan from his home, searching his house and confiscating his laptop and phone. He was later released with a travel ban imposed on him.

The evidence in the indictment charging Türkdoğan with “membership in a terrorist organization,” the most serious charge he faces, consists of Türkdoğan’s speeches, statements, and conversations in his capacity as the co-chair of the Human Rights Association. The indictment cites nine broadcasts in which the ANF Kurdish media outlet included clips of Türkdoğan making public statements on various dates between March 2015 to January 2020.