Austrian human rights activist Sandra Bakutz was arrested at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on February 9th whilst entering the country to observe a trial. As soon as the plane landed police entered the plane and removed her from the aircraft taking her straight into police custody.
As a result of an imprisonment order issued by Ankara’s No.2 State Security Court (also known as the Serious Crimes Court) in September 2001, she was transported to Pasakapisi Prison. Although it is still not clear what specific crime she is being charged with, she has been imprisoned accused of membership of the illegal DHKP-C organisation. Already the authorities have said that her alleged involvement in a protest in Brussels several years ago in opposition to the visit of the then Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is evidence against her even though she did not participate in any such protest.
Sandra has made regular trips to Turkey over the years to observe the human rights abuses carried out by the state. On a previous visit to Turkey in 1998 Sandra was detained and threatened by plainclothes police in Ankara when she went with a delegation to protest against disappearances.
Sandra went to Turkey on this occasion as part of a European wide delegation to observe the trial of 64 people that were arrested in an operation in April last year. The defendants include lawyers, journalists, musicians, students and workers all of whom were working for legal institutions at the time of their arrests: all of them were tortured whilst in custody and are now being held in F-type isolation prisons. The sole evidence against them consists of floppy disks that the police claim contains a membership list of the banned DHKP-C. The police say that they found these disks whilst carrying searches of houses on April 1st.
One of the documents containing names that the police claim to have found on one of the discs is dated February 20th, but the man recorded as its author was arrested by police on February 19th and detained until the 24th. Under Turkish law, police are obligated to seal confiscated documents such as these discs and send them to the courts immediately. However, between the time of their confiscation on April 1st, and the date they were sent to the court, May 3rd, the discs were not sealed, so providing ample time and opportunity for the documents to be interfered with.
The files used for the trial consist only of printouts from the discs, so neither the judges nor the lawyers have had the opportunity to see the actual discs themselves.
In an added twist last December a man was arrested at Ataturk airport in Istanbul whilst trying to fly to Berlin to participate in a conference about prison isolation. He was detained at the airport as the police claimed his name was on the never-ending list even though he had not been mentioned before in any of the court hearings. Sandra Bakutz was a participant in that very same conference that also included former Irish prisoners, representatives of Basque prisoners, family members of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Palestinians and other activists from across Europe. Sandra also came to England last year to make a contribution to the European Social Forum in London where she spoke against prison isolation and European anti-terror laws.
Sandra has now found herself on trial in the very same courthouse that she was intending to observe a trial. Let this silence those that claim Turkey has improved its human rights record. 118 people have died in the prisons in the last five years in the struggle against isolation cells, whilst the EU chose to be complicit in this abuse Sandra didn’t.
Let us not permit Sandra Bakutz to be imprisoned and condemned in Turkey. Her struggle against human rights violations is a legitimate struggle.
Let us not allow this struggle to be criminalised by her arrest by the Turkish authorities. We call on all people and organisations which support human rights to make her cause their own and work for her release.