On July 5, eight women’s human rights defenders and two security experts were detained in Istanbul, Turkey. They were attending a seminar about how human rights defenders can continue and improve their work during states of emergency. Their detention is a flagrant violation of their rights and flies in the face of their efforts to protect civil liberties and free speech. Women’s human rights defenders are not a threat, and make important contributions to civil society. They are voices that we should be defending and amplifying, not suppressing.
Women and women’s human rights defenders are vital members of society, and their work should not be impeded. They have been working for many years in Turkey to improve the lives of women and to advance their health, access to justice, and political participation as well as to eliminate gender-based violence.
Turkey imposed a state of emergency in July 2016, after the failed military coup. In May 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extended the country’s state of emergency until it achieves “welfare and peace.” This allows Erdogan to maintain a firm grasp of power, without oversight from parliament or the court. He has been cracking down on civil society and anyone who voices dissent. Over the past year, his government has jailed more than 50,000 people.
Erdogan has made it clear that he does not value the lives of these human rights defenders. There is fear that they will be tortured or suffer other inhumane treatment. International Women’s Health Coalition joins many other organizations and activists in calling for their immediate release and for the protection of civil society, free speech, and human rights.
Photo: Berk Özkan / OCHA.