Update: Taner Kılıç was arrested and returned to prison hours after his release after an Istanbul prosecutor appealed the decision. “To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey,” Amnesty International’s secretary general said.
I spent 12 days in jail, the last nine of which were in solitary confinement, before I learned that the lawyer who would represent me was a man named Taner Kılıç. At once, I felt relieved. I was relieved not only because Taner is a great lawyer and the president of Amnesty International in Turkey, but also because he had been my companion and had fought alongside me for many years.
I had been arrested by plainclothes police officers near the Syrian border. The police accused me of having entered a military area without permission near the town of Reyhanlı, in the Hatay province. I was afraid they would keep me in prison for months, maybe even years. However, just two days after Taner began to represent me, the doors of my cell swung open and I was released.
The next day, I was on a flight to Bologna, extremely relieved that my ordeal had been short-lived. But five weeks later, Taner, the man who had moved heaven and earth to obtain my release, was himself arrested. At 6:30 in the morning, on June 6, the police showed up at his house and took him into custody.
Three days later, he was charged with “being a member of the terrorist organization of Fethullah Gülen” (FETÖ) and was remanded in preventive custody to the Sakran prison near Izmir, where he was held for nearly eight months. Though he was released on bail Wednesday, he remains accused of “membership in a terrorist organization,” and, if convicted, faces up to 15 years in prison. For me, even the thought of this possibility was alarming to the utmost.
I met Taner for the first time in 2006. It was a cold day in December, and I had landed in Izmir at the end of my long journey across the Mediterranean, on which my first book, Mamadou va a morire (“Mamadou goes to die”), would be based. We met in one of the busiest bars in town. I was there for the specific purpose of trying to meet with him.
Taner was the one representing the survivors from the sinking of a boat in Turkish waters by the Greek coast guard, during an illegal denial of entry to the country that had occurred three months earlier.
It was a terrible event, which ended with the deaths of nine passengers, who drowned only a few meters from the shore. It was a story which the Greek and Turkish authorities would have preferred to keep under wraps, had it not been for the persistence of Taner and two extraordinary women who also worked on the case, but whom I will not name, given the current circumstances.
According to the authorities, the main grounds for the accusation of an alleged connection between Taner and the Gülen movement was the fact that in August 2014 the ByLock app was downloaded to his phone. The authorities believe this secure mobile messaging application has been used by the Gülen movement to communicate.
No credible evidence has been brought forth in support of Taner being a “member of FETÖ.” Taner denies having ever downloaded or used ByLock, or even having heard of it before its alleged use was widely publicized in connection with the recent arrests and prosecutions.
Two independent forensic investigations of his phone, commissioned by Amnesty International, failed to identify any evidence that ByLock was ever downloaded on it. Last month, the Turkish government acknowledged that more than 11,400 people accused of having used ByLock had never actually downloaded the app on their phones, and it started to release those who had been arrested. Taner had not been included on the list of those to be released, but the fact of these releases was a de facto recognition that mistakes have been made.
After waiting in pre-trial detention for almost eight months, Taner’s trial resumed Wednesday and he was finally released. His detention was a sad confirmation of the fact that Taner has never made any compromises. In addition, it was also a sad confirmation of the increasingly dangerous and ridiculous descent into which such a remarkable country as Turkey has fallen.
I express my solidarity with Taner, and I add my voice to the chorus of those demanding the release of all journalists, lawyers, academics, activists, MPs and, generally speaking, all the Turkish opposition leaders who have been imprisoned by the thousands during the past year on trumped-up terrorism charges.