Leading Turkish human rights defender sentenced for Twitter post
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A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, one of the country’s leading human rights advocates, to two-and-a-half years in jail for a 2016 Twitter post advocating peace.
A former head of Mazlumdar, a prominent Turkish human rights group, Gergerlioglu was sentenced for “disseminating terrorist propaganda”, a charge he denies.
The 53-year-old human rights activist was sentenced for a message he posted on Twitter on October 9, 2016, when he downloaded a photograph of a World Peace Day demonstration featuring Kurdish mothers protesting behind two symbolic coffins, one draped in the Turkish flag and the other in a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flag.
The PKK is proscribed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU, the United States and the United Nations.
Gergerlioglu tweeted the picture along with a message for peace in Turkish that said: “Looking at this picture, you will understand that this war has no meaning. Mothers the same, flags different.”
Responding to the charges before a court in the western Turkish city of Izmit, Gergerlioglu maintained that while he supported the peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK – which collapsed in 2015 – he never supported terrorism or the use of violence.
“I have never supported terror or terrorist organisations in word or deed. In fact, Mazlumder has made statements condemning the PKK. My posts on Facebook have been pro-peace,” he said.
Trapped in Turkey’s post-coup purges
An Islamist human rights activist, Gergerlioglu served as head of Mazlumder between 2009 and 2011.
Mazlumder – which means “persecuted people” – was founded in 1991 to fight for the rights of Turkey’s Islamists, who feel oppressed by the secular establishment. Following the 1990s conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK, which resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people, the group earned a reputation for its human rights work during the counterinsurgency.
In a message posted on his personal blog on Wednesday, Gergerlioglu condemned the court ruling and vowed to continue fighting for human rights in Turkey. “At a time when the law has been shelved, I do not accept this very unjust ruling, and I leave it to the conscience of the nation. I will continue my struggle so that [people of] all identities and views can enjoy human rights and a free life,” he wrote.
A doctor by profession, Gergerlioglu was fired from his post at a government hospital in Izmit, around 200 kilometres east of Istanbul, on October 13, 2016, after ultranationalist groups launched an online campaign calling for his dismissal.
A vocal critic of the Turkish government’s crackdown on human rights following the failed July 2016 coup, Gergerlioglu was subsequently fired from charitable boards and community organisations in a systematic targeting he described as a “nightmare” in an April 2017 interview with FRANCE 24.
Islamists criticising Erdogan
A columnist and well-known figure across Turkey, Gergerlioglu was a supporter of the ruling AK Party before the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which sparked a deadly crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
The crackdown led to a split within Turkey’s Islamist ranks, with several Islamist human rights defenders condemning Erdogan’s response to the pro-democracy protests. Others accused Erdogan of abandoning democratic principles and civil liberties.
Gergerlioglu, along with 24 other Islamist public figures, signed a declaration condemning the “state arrogance” toward the protesters.
“Ignoring Gezi Park protesters’ demands, and subsequently labeling them as ‘plunderers’, reflects the arrogance of a political power that believes it is the country’s landlord,” the statement noted.
Gergerlioglu is one of Erdogan’s leading Islamist critics. Analysts says his statements and comments against the AK Party’s policies, including moves to expand Erdogan’s presidential powers, are considered particularly threatening by the Turkish government.
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