By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered the conditional release of the jailed chairman of Amnesty International in Turkey, the rights group said, although the trial will continue despite criticism from the European Union and the United States.
Taner Kilic has been in prison since June in the coastal province of Izmir on terrorism charges. Prosecutors say he downloaded ByLock, a messaging application used by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed military coup in 2016. Kilic denies the charges.
While Taner was released, the trial against him and 10 other human rights activists on terrorism-related charges continues.
“It is an enormous relief that Taner will soon be back with his wife and daughters, sleeping in his own bed for the first time in almost eight months. But we cannot forget that many other innocent people remain behind bars without a shred of evidence in Turkey,” Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Europe Director said.
“These unfounded prosecutions are an attempt to silence critical voices within Turkey but have only served to highlight the importance of human rights and those who dedicate their lives to defending them,” Gulik added.
People in the courtroom greeted the decision with shouts of joy, and many friends and colleagues wept and hugged one another.
“At last justice has been served. We are very happy. Eight months is a long time for an innocent person. We hope to be acquitted in the end because we are not guilty,” said Idil Eser, one of eight activists released in a hearing last October in the same case.
“Being a right activist is not a crime,” added Eser, who is director of Amnesty International’s local branch.
The case against the activists, who number 11 in total and who face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty, has become a flashpoint in Turkey’s tense relations with the European Union, which it still aspires to join.
It has also heightened concerns that Turkey, an important NATO ally, is sliding further toward authoritarian rule under President Tayyip Erdogan.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)