The Observatory has been informed about the sentencing and continued judicial harassment of Sevda Özbingöl Çelik, a human rights lawyer from the Urfa Bar Association and a member of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Urfa Branch and Urfa Bar’s Human Rights Center.
On June 7, 2021, Urfa’s Sixth Heavy Penal Court sentenced Sevda Özbingöl Çelik to 11 years and six months of prison, on charges of “membership to a terrorist organisation” (Article 314/2 of the Turkish Criminal Code), “violating the Law no. 2911 on Assemblies and Meetings” (Article 28 of the Law no. 2911), and “terrorist propaganda” (Article 7/2 of Anti-Terror Law).
These charges are related to her participation to “unauthorised” peaceful assemblies between 2013 and 2017 in relation to women’s rights, hunger strikes of prisoners and accountability for the killings of civilians, during which “terrorist propaganda” was allegedly made through banners and slogans; to her meetings with her clients as a lawyer; her social media posts; and her membership to associations that were shut down following the passing of emergency decrees . Furthermore, the charges are based on the testimonies of two anonymous witnesses – one of which later withdrew her testimony –, who claim Sevda Özbingöl Çelik ensured “communication between the members of the terrorist organisation” through meetings with her imprisoned clients and that she was herself allegedly seen with other members of the terrorist organisation. This lack of credible evidence is symptomatic of judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Turkey, and the use of anonymous witnesses in cases involving terrorism charges has been systematically criticised by civil society in Turkey and international actors for violating the right to fair trial.
Furthermore, the judicial control measures and travel ban previously imposed on her remain in force. The sentence against her is not final and her lawyers have declared they will appeal the sentence, and she will remain free until her appeal takes place. If her conviction is upheld, she will be imprisoned to serve the sentence and will lose her license to practice as a lawyer.
The Observatory recalls that on March 12, 2020, Sevda Özbingöl Çelik’s house and office were raided and she was subsequently arrested, in the context of coordinated arrests and raids in the houses and offices of 13 human rights lawyers . The Prosecutor’s Office in Urfa initially opened an investigation against her for “assisting a terrorist organisation” (Article 220/7 of the Turkish Criminal Code). On March 17, 2020, the Peace Judgeship ordered the pre-trial detention of Sevda Özbingöl Çelik in Urfa, based on “her representation of individuals charged with membership to a terrorist organisation” as a lawyer and “her visits to the prison”. An anonymous witness alleged that she was among the lawyers who supported the communication between prisoners. After nine months in pre-trial detention, she was released on judicial control on December 11, 2020, and imposed a travel ban pending trial.