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Eren Keskin

For more than three decades, Eren Keskin, lawyer and advocate for women's and minority rights, has suffered numerous trials, spent time in prison, lived under threat and, twice, attempts on her life.

Eren Keskin shows the "Aachen's peace prize" document during a news conference in Aachen, Germany, 1 September 2004. AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz

In response to the Istanbul Bar Association's disciplinary investigation against her in 2008, Eren Keskin stated:

If, as a legal professional institution, you believe that people should be punished for their thoughts, then you can give me whatever punishment you want. But I will continue to express my opinions freely.

For more than three decades, Eren Keskin, lawyer and advocate for women's and minority rights, has suffered numerous trials, spent time in prison, lived under threat and, twice, attempts on her life. Undeterred, she remains an outspoken, high profile rights campaigner with a possible 10-month prison sentence hanging over her.

Keskin is co-founder of the Legal Aid Project for Women who were Raped or Otherwise Sexually Abused in Custody and for many years a senior member of the Human Rights Association (HRA) in Turkey. Her exposure of human rights abuses by Turkish armed forces and police has meant that she herself has come under acute risk. In 1994, when she was chief executive of the Istanbul office of the HRA, she was shot at. Luckily the bullets missed. In 2001, a man entered her office and shot at her. He was arrested, but released only six months later. The threats against her continue to this day.

Her consistent and outspoken support for women and minorities has also led to Keskin being prosecuted over the years on an array of charges, from insult of the Turkish state for suggesting that armed forces had been perpetrators of sexual violence in the Kurdish southeast, to "incitement to hatred" for having referred to 'Kurdistan' in speeches. Mostly, these trials have ended with acquittal, suspended sentences or fines. However, in 1995, she spent several months in prison for "inciting separatism" in an article calling for a cease-fire between the PKK and government forces. She was also banned from practising law for a year in 2002.

In an interview for IFEX in March 2014, Keskin said that there were around ten cases open against her, including under the controversial Penal Code Article 301 that penalises insult to the state and its institutions. She explained, "If you write of the rape of a woman or a child by a policeman, it is regarded as an insult to the state as they are an operative of the state, and then by implication you are insulting the state a whole." Keskin told of how she continues to receive threats, although fewer than in the past, but that she does not report them, "Because we focus on the problems of others, we don't focus on our own personal problems. Our work is for other people rather than ourselves."

In December 2014, Keskin was sentenced to ten months in prison under Article 301 for insult to the state for having said in a speech in 2005 that 'Turkey has a dirty history'. She was linking the death of a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead alongside his father by police during an anti-PKK operation in 2004 to what she described as a long history of violent oppression by the Turkish state going back to the 1915 Armenian genocide. Police implicated in the killings were eventually acquitted, a decision that led to an outcry among Kurdish activists. An appeal court is considering Keskin's sentence. However, there are concerns that the decision is unlikely to be overturned, as the verdict referred to her 'determination to repeat the crime', a reference to the previous prosecutions against for similar reasons. She believes that her prominence as a human rights defender is another factor.

In March 2016, Keskin was served with a travel ban under anti terror legislation for a photograph published in Özgür Gündem, a newspaper that covers Kurdish issues and which has for many years been subject to closures and court cases. Keskin is deputy editor of the newspaper.

Keskin was issued with a banning order by an Istanbul court on 23 March 2016 , when she was told that she would be "kept under judiciary control by means of an international travel ban" under Article 7/1 of the Anti Terror Law. She is accused of making "propaganda for terrorism". There are several judicial cases against Özgür Gündem and Keskin's travel ban is likely to be in place for as long as the newspaper is before the courts. In a statement, the Istanbul office of the Human Rights Association, of which Keskin is vice-president, described her as "a formidable defender of victims and the beacon of discrimination suits" adding that "she has also represented the struggle for human rights in general, and against racism and discrimination in Turkey in particular, at international institutions abroad".

Keskin was awarded the Aachen Peace Prize in 2004, followed by the Theodor Haecken Prize in 2005. In November 2013, Eren Keskin featured in IFEX's International Day to End Impunity campaign.

Last Updated: 10 April 2016


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