Amnesty Turkey’s chair, only remaining arrested defendant in Büyükada trial, released by court

A group of human rights activists gather outside the Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul on Jan. 31, 2018, demanding the release of Amnesty International head for Turkey, Taner Kılıç. (AFP Photo)

A Turkish court has ruled that the chairman of Amnesty International's Turkey branch, Taner Kılıç, be released from prison while the case dubbed as "the Büyükada Trial" continues.

Istanbul's 35th Heavy Penal Court ruled on Wednesday for the release of Kılıç under judicial control.

Kılıç has been in custody since June over charges of membership in the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is accused of staging the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, among other charges. The reason for his detention was using ByLock, an encrypted messaging app exclusively used by the FETÖ.

Authorities detained 11 human rights activists while they were conducting a human rights training workshop on July 5, 2017 at a meeting in Büyükada of Istanbul's Princes' Islands.

In the indictment, the prosecutor charged the suspects with aiming to incite violent and chaotic mass public protests during main opposition Republican People's Party Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's "Justice" march between June 15 and July 15.

Kılıçdaroğlu and fellow party members had walked from capital Ankara to Istanbul to demand what they called "justice" for people detained over their links to terrorist groups, particularly the FETÖ.

The indictment likened the planned protests to those in the Gezi Park riots of 2013.

The suspects are German national Peter Frank Steudtner, Swedish national Ali Ghravi, and nine Turkish nationals, namely Kılıç, Veli Acu, AI Turkey director, İdil Eser, AI Turkey board member, Nalan Erkem and Özlem Dalkıran from Citizens Assembly, İlknur Üstün from Women's Coalition, Günal Kurşun from Human Rights Agenda Association, Nejat Taştan from the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights and former Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed activist Şeyhmus Özbekli. Two of the suspects had been on trial without arrest.

Kılıç and other defendants have denied all the charges brought against them. The indictment charged Kılıç with armed terror group membership, whereas the rest of the suspects were charged with aiding an armed terror group, facing up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

Eight defendants were released on Oct. 25. Two foreigners flew back home.

At the time, Steudtner's arrest added further troubles to Turkey's already strained ties with Germany over a broad range of issues.

In Wednesday's trial, Kılıç said that previous expert reports stated that he did not download and use ByLock, whereas a new report prepared by his lawyers point that there were several programs that had been connected to his smartphone without his permission. Kılıç added that Amnesty is being criminalized and defamed over his actions.

A statement prepared by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in late December said that the FETÖ installed the ByLock messaging app on 11,480 smartphones without user permission to mask its real users. It said the investigation found that 11,480 GSM numbers had been directed to ByLock IPs involuntarily.

With Kılıç's release, all activists are now on trial without arrest.

"We will continue our struggle until all charges against the 11 rights activists are dropped," Amnesty Turkey said on their Twitter account.
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