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An open letter to ECHR President Robert Spano

Dear Mr Spano,

Your visit to Turkey last week deeply disappointed those fighting for human rights, democracy, equality, and the rule of law. Your visit to my country, where the rule of law has been disregarded and hundreds of thousands of people are unlawfully in prison, could have been quite different. With your visit, you could have empowered people and institutions struggling for human rights, democracy, equality, freedom, and judicial independence, and renewed their faith in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has become a relief mechanism for thousands of people in the face of unlawfulness in this country. However, disregarding the principles of the court you lead, one of the most valuable human rights courts in the world, you have chosen another way.

Istanbul University, where you received your honorary doctorate during your visit, unlawfully dismissed nearly 192 academics by decree. The Justice Academy (Adalet Akademisi), where you gave a speech, did not speak up when 4,260 judges and prosecutors were fired in the last four years, and did not fight for their rights when thousands of them were thrown into prison. The Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court you visited have poor records on human rights and the rule of law in recent years. Lastly, the governor of the southern province of Mardin you visited was appointed by the government to replace Ahmet Türk, who was democratically elected with more than 200,000 votes.

Dear Mr Spano,

Turkey is in horrible darkness, with hundreds of people waiting for justice for many years. When you visited my country, you should have listened to the people and institutions that struggle for human rights, as well as non-governmental organisations. However, when you meet state and ruling party officials but decide not to come together with the people who were victimised by the practices of the state and the government, you cast a big shadow on the impartiality of yourself and the ECHR.

Dear Mr Spano,

The judicial system and the rule of law have been destroyed in my country for a long time. Hundreds of thousands of people, politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, and writers are in prison. For what? Because they are opposed to the government, because they want peace, because they want freedom, because they think differently from those in power, because they write, because they say “children are dying”, sometimes because they wear a yellow-red-green scarf symbolising Kurdish culture, sometimes because they sing a Kurdish song. Their cases – including my own – will one day come to the ECHR. How will you judge these cases against the Turkish government? As a human rights defender and journalist, how can I trust your impartiality when my own case comes to the ECHR, Mr Spano?

My dear friend Osman Kavala, a Turkish philanthropist and human rights activist, has been unjustly in prison for 1,044 days despite the ECHR’s decision to release him. Think about it, Mr Spano, your arrival could have brought hope to our friends who count the days and hours in a cell. Your arrival could have been a tiny light of hope for Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş, Ahmet Altan and many others. Despite ECHR verdicts calling for their release, Demirtaş and Kavala are still behind the bars, and that is why your visit, frankly, makes me angry. With your trip, you provided legitimacy to the oppressive regime in Turkey that ignores the decisions of the court you represent, and you undermined the principles of the ECHR.

Mr Spano, there is a district in Mardin where you met the governor, its name is Nusaybin. The last curfew in Nusaybin started on March 14, 2016, and lasted 134 days. Nearly a hundred people died in these 134 days, with the six most populous neighbourhoods of Nusaybin completely destroyed. 45,000 Nusaybin residents were left homeless. Some of the bodies have never been found. If you were to go to Nusaybin, which is only half an hour away from Mardin, Mr Spano, you would see numbered tombstones in the cemetery. They belong to those whose identity could not be determined due to a lack of bodily integrity making them unrecognisable. Even after five years of conflict, you would see parents looking for a piece, a bone of their children.

But you chose to see what you wanted to see, not those who seek justice, not those who seek the rights of their children. You chose not to hear the voice of justice whispered to us from the cemeteries and prisons of this country. Instead, you chose to be “honoured” by a state that systematically violates human rights and the rule of law, crimes often convicted by the ECHR. You have damaged not only your honour but also that of the court you represent, which has supported the uncovering of many mass graves and unsolved murders in this country and has been a hope for the citizens seeking justice since the 1990s.

I think that this stain on the ECHR can only be cleared by your resignation.