German rights activist Peter Steudtner acquitted of terror-related charges in Turkey | News | DW | 03.07.2020
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German rights activist Peter Steudtner acquitted of terror-related charges in Turkey

The verdict came three years after Peter Steudtner and 10 other human rights activists were arrested in Turkey on terrorism-related charges. Four others in the case were handed jail terms.

A court in Istanbul acquitted seven human rights activists accused of terrorism-related charges on Friday, including German rights activist Peter Steudtner, but jailed others.

German citizen Steudtner  and Swedish national Ali Gharavi were acquitted of all charges, although four other rights activists were handed jail sentences.

Amnesty International's former Turkey chair Taner Kilic was sentenced to six years and three months for allegedly being a member of a terrorist organization.

And Idil Eser, former Amnesty Turkey director, was sentenced to one year and 13 months for "helping a terrorist organisation."

The Turkish government had accused the activists of "aiding and arming terrorist organizations" through civil society actions in Turkey, as well as being members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement.

Watch video 03:05

Activist Peter Steudtner acquitted: DW's Julia Hahn reports from Istanbul

Steudtner: International pressure needed to free detainees

Steudtner called for an international pressure campaign to help enforce human rights in Turkey in comments to DW.

"Yes, human rights are under attack in Turkey stronger than ever, but at the same time I see also that within Turkish civil society — and in the human rights network — there is a stronger than ever energy towards freeing the people who are detained," he told DW.

"I hope that we can mount up international pressure, German government pressure, economic pressure, so that human rights are further implemented in Turkey and that means that the other four will go free."

Secretary General of Amnesty International Germany Murkus N. Beeko told DW that Amnesty was calling on the international community to condemn the decision.

"It's very clear that the Turkish government ... is sending a signal of repression to the Turkish civil society," he told DW.

"It takes international pressure to uphold human rights and the rule of law. So it was to be expected that foreign nationals would walk free today while those who are Turkish nationals and activists are at a higher risk of being punished.

"It is now high time that despite economic interests, or the EU-Turkey deal, that everone sends a strong signal to Turkish authorities that they've taken a step too far."

Watch video 05:56

German activist opens up about time in Turkish jail

Strained relations

The controversial case has strained relations between Turkey and its Western allies, particularly Germany.

Ten of the defendants were arrested in mid-2017 during a raid on a human rights training workshop on the island of Buyukada, near Istanbul. Kilic was detained a month later and added to the case. The 11, who are no longer in custody, have always maintained their innocence. Steudtner returned to Germany in October 2017.

Amnesty's Andrew Gardner said they would continue to fight for their colleagues.

The group is among tens of thousands of people who have been rounded up in Turkey amid a widespread crackdown that followed a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Ankara blames the network of US-based Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen for the failed putsch, and has already prosecuted thousands alleged to have links to him.

Read more:  Fethullah Gulen, the man behind the myth

Lack of evidence

Turkey's public prosecutor requested at the end of last year that four of the defendants, including Steudtner, be acquitted over lack of evidence, according to documents seen by German press agency DPA. But convictions were sought for five other defendants on terrorism charges. They face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

Human rights organization Amnesty International has slammed the trial as "politically motivated" and called for the acquittal of all defendants.

"This verdict matters, not just to these 11 women and men and their families but to everyone who values human rights, in Turkey and beyond," Amnesty Europe director Nils Muiznieks said in a statement.

aw, nm/rs (dpa, AFP)

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