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Writer and human rights lawyer detained

UPDATE: PEN calls for writer's release (Writers in Prison Committee, 12 July 2012)

(WiPC/IFEX) - On 24 December 2009, human rights lawyer, writer and PEN Turkey member Muharrem Erbey was arrested in Diyabakir, southeastern Turkey. Two weeks later, he remains in prison awaiting trial. He was among 80 people arrested on accusations of having links with an organisation said to be affiliated to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Erbey is a highly respected human rights lawyer, and vice president of the Human Rights Association (IHD), who has conducted research into disappearances and extrajudicial killings in and around the Diyabakir region. International PEN shares the concerns of other human rights observers that Erbey's arrest appears to be linked to his human rights advocacy.

Erbey, aged 40, is a lawyer who has since the late 1990s worked on human rights issues, for which he has gained international respect. He has represented a number of individuals whose cases have gone to the European Court on Human Rights. In 2008 he became vice president of the IHD, one of Turkey's most reputable human rights associations. He is also president of the Diyabakir Branch of the IHD.

According to reports, members of the Anti-Terror Unit of the Diyabakir Security Directorate took Erbey from his home in the early hours of 24 December 2009. Erbey has been charged under Article 220/6 of the Penal Code with "membership in an illegal organisation", the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK), said to be affiliated with the PKK. He is being held in the Diyabakir D Type Prison. Around 80 others were arrested across the region, 23 of whom are said to remain in detention.

Commentators have referred to recent visits by Erbey to various European parliaments, including in Sweden, Belgium and the UK, where he spoke on Kurdish rights. He also participated in a Kurdish film festival staged in Italy in late 2009. In September 2009, he took part in a workshop on minority rights in Diyabakir. At the time of his arrest, the offices of the IHD were searched and documentation seized, including archives on serious human rights violations over the past two decades, including extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Also a writer, Erbey's collection of short stories, "My Father, Aharon Usta", is due to be published shortly. In 2007, he was a co-editor of a collection of Turkish and Kurdish language stories by 35 authors, distributed by the Diyabakir Metropolitan Municipality free to local people. The mayor who organised the publication was subsequently brought to trial under a law that prohibited the use of the Kurdish alphabet (since annulled). Erbey defended the mayor, who was subsequently acquitted after Erbey gathered 300 writers' signatures against the court hearing. Another short story collection, "Missing Pedigree", was published in 2004. Erbey has written many articles on culture and children's and human rights that have appeared in arts and culture magazines, newspapers and websites. He is a member of PEN Turkey and the Kurdish Writers' Association.


RECOMMENDED ACTIONS:

Send appeals to authorities:
- expressing concern over Erbey's arrest for reasons which appear to be related to his human rights advocacy
- asking for assurances that his arrest does not fall foul of international standards protecting the rights to freedom of expression and association, and that the judicial proceedings against him follow the full and proper fair trial process
- calling for the judicial process against him to be carried out expediently and without delay


APPEALS TO:

Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
06669 Kizilay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 3370

Also to the Turkish ambassador in your country.

Please contact WiPC if sending appeals after 28 February 2010.

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