BİA (Istanbul) – Advocates of human rights in Turkey are standing up in defence of Human Rights Association (IHD) Istanbul branch former chair Eren Keskin after a group of Turkish women organisations this week gave public adverts to Turkish newspapers “violently condemning” her for implied support to an outlawed armed organisation and openly charging her with “showing extraordinary efforts to diminish respect in the Turkish Armed Forces”.
The advertisements, which appeared in the mass circulation Turkish daily Hurriyet and the Cumhuriyet newspapers, claimed that while Keskin was head of the IHD Istanbul branch, she used every meeting she attended “to voice the factitious slander of the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party] PKK”. The advert also claimed she was involved in activities “to spoil the atmosphere of peace”.
Keskin, a lawyer by profession, chaired the IHD Istanbul branch until the end of last month when, following scheduled elections, she was replaced by Hurriyet Sener.
As founder of the “Legal Aid For Victims of Sexual Harassment and Rape Under Detention Project”, Keskin was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment this year for “insulting the armed forces” for a speech she made back in Germany in 2002. Though the sentence was later converted to a fine, she said in March that she would rather serve it.
“Keskin is marked as a target”
IHD chairman Yusuf Alatas who said they respected everyone’s right to express their opinions, warned that the advertisement against Keskin “shows one of our executives as a target. It creates a relationship with an outlawed and armed organisation. There is first an unjust claim, then a marking of target through this unjust claim”.
Alatas added that “if you reflect someone as if that person is a traitor, then some people will come up to punish hose traitors”. Noting that the condemnation advert had come from organisations that where both women organisations and non-governmental organisations, Alatas said “but the views they express actually say that the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) are privileged and cannot be criticised. That the supremacy of law cannot be applied to the TAF. It supports a militarist view and system which is something that is unacceptable”.
The IHD chairman stressed that “civilian society organisations must first be civilian themselves. Organisations of women should uphold woman rights on the foreground. Actions and statements that stem out of the concept ‘every Turk is born as a soldier’ do not serve democracy”.
“They want to intimidate IHD”
The day the advert against Keskin went out, IHD Istanbul branch received a threat letter containing an unknown substance in powder form as part of an ongoing campaign against the association.
With regard to the two simultaneous incidents, “what they want to do is intimidate the IHD” explained Alatas in an interview with Bianet.
“What we are living through are the result of the general repressive attitude towards the human rights struggle in Turkey,” he said. “When the judiciary, government and police fail to fulfil their responsibilities in face of such repression, when those responsible are not apprehended and brought before the law, they become even more courageous”.
Alatas said attacks and threats against the IHD has two purposes. “The first is to escalate the tension. Then they specifically want to intimidate the IHD. Because an atmosphere of tension can harbour any king of outlawed activity”.
“Stop this lynch campaign”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Agenda Association (IHDG) issued a statement in protest of the women organisation’s advert saying that an attempt was being made to display Keskin as if she was a terrorist in the public eye and noting that the “slander against her” had come after the case on insulting the army.
“We are genuinely concerned over the lynch campaign opened against human rights advocate Eren Keskin and we condemn such initiatives” the IHDG said.
The statement said it was “surprising” that non-governmental organisations were displaying a position against human rights, democracy and the supremacy of the law and continued, “human rights activists, as part of the nature of the struggle they are involved in, can many times fall on the opposite side of the state and state institutions. The same thing may also be valid.. for armed political groups. In view of this situation, no one has the right to lynch human rights advocates for speeches they have made, reports they have prepared or their statements”.
Persona non grata
A version of the women organisation’s advert is now being distributed over the internet where reference is made to a different part of the text that also condemns a campaign launched in Turkey previously to support Keskin in view of legal actions taken against her.
The campaign to support Keskin has been branded “a campaign to support the PKK” while communiqués have been issued online declaring the human rights activist as a “persona non grata”. (TK/II/YE)