Kazakh family share horror of speaking up about Xinjiang

First he fled Xinjiang. Then Kazakhstan. And then Turkey. On 20 January 2021 Serikzhan Bilash, a prominent human rights defender and activist, travelled alone to the United States to seek asylum. He left behind his wife, Laila Adilzahn, and three sons. On 9 January 2022, his family travelled to the Netherlands to seek asylum. But even there troubles have continued to plague them.

Since the Ürümqi protests of 2009, violent and oppressive PRC policies towards the region’s minorities have intensified to what today amounts to genocide. As a native Kazakh in the region, Bilash founded Atajurt Human Rights in 2017. Together with his wife, who is also a native Kazakh born in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, they have recorded, translated and published online thousands of video testimonies of the abuses. Bilash told Index:

“I created the video testimony model because ethnic Kazakhs who lost loved ones in Xinjiang were coming to me to tell their story.”

Many Kazakh families are separated due to some members having fled the region using dual passports [Chinese and Kazakhs]. His organisation has called on the Chinese government to release interned family members, support their relatives in Kazakhstan and empower the voices of survivors.

“Too many awful stories there. We were translating these facts into English for international journalists. So it was big, big work,” Adilzahn said.

This work has not been without risks. On 10 March 2019, Bilash was arrested by the Kazakhstan authorities. He was charged with article 174 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan for “inciting ethnic hatred”. The UN Special Rapporteur, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, has stated article 174 has been used unduly and increasingly to target outspoken civil society leaders to obstruct their work [paragraph 15]. Bilash told Index:

“I never criticised the Kazakhstan government when beginning this work because I knew if I criticised, it would be very dangerous to continue. So collecting the facts about the concentration camps and sending it to the media was the only way to save my people.”

He told survivors the Kazakh government would support them, but instead “because of Chinese pressure, the Kazakhstan government arrested me.”

“Please Save My Husband”, Adilzahn wrote to the international community via her Bitter Winter blog.

Bilash spent six months in prison and under house arrest, before coming to a procedural agreement allowing for his release. The conditions were that he had to plead guilty and promise to refrain from leading a political organisation for the next seven years.

Throughout 2020 Kazakhstan’s human rights situation was worsening.

“When he was released we thought we could stay there in Kazakhstan, and that they couldn’t arrest us, or do something with us. But we were mistaken. They started sending papers and opening new cases against us again. There was no chance to stay,” said Adilzahn.

Bilash said he was harassed by people connected to the government. According to Bilash, it began with carrots: promises of a state fund to manage and the opportunity to “live happily ever after”. He refused, knowing his silence could not be bought. So the sticks were brought out: Bilash received death threats from Kazakh authorities: “What if a truck crashes into your car and kills you, leaving your children crying behind you.” With Dulat Agadil, a close supporter, having already died in custody and his son stabbed shortly after, it was time to leave. On 10 September 2020, they left for Turkey.

Their situation was desperate. Adilzahn told Index: “We obtained a year tourist visa. But we had nothing. We never planned to leave Kazakhstan, or get refugee status from somewhere.” Bilash said Kazahk authorities labelled him a terrorist and froze his bank accounts. When in Turkey, Bilash alleges individuals approaching him monitored his activities on behalf of the Kazakhstan state. Their feelings of insecurity were exacerbated by notable reports of Uyghurs being watched, killed and deported via third countries.

In Turkey, he felt there was no way to continue the work of Atajurt Human Rights. Adilzahn told him, “You have to go, you are the only one who can rescue your nation. If you are deported back to China, your life and nation will be lost. There will be no chance for freedom.” So on 20 January 2021, Bilash left Turkey to seek asylum in the USA. His family remained in Turkey as they didn’t have the documentation needed. Since February 2021, China Aid has been hosting and helping him with the process.

Adilzahn told Index that they “thought he had a politically motivated full case [for asylum], and that we could reunite in America very fast.” But she speculated the pandemic, a Presidential election and issues with illegal immigrants in the USA slowed down Bilash’s asylum and their reunification. This endangered the family.

“A big footprint was left on the patio outside their apartment where Adilzahn lived. And there were reports of Kazakh government security officers searching the Kazakh ex-pat community in Turkey by showing Mr. Bilash’s photo and asking where they could find his family,” Bob Fu, the founder of China Aid, told Index.

Then, in December 2021 Duken Masimkhanuli, president of a pro-Chinese organisation in Kazakhstan, texted Bilash threatening “I will kill you and your three sons.” He was also insulted and threatened by Bakhtiyar Toktaubay, a resident of the Almaty region in Kazakhstan. He sent a video saying “Serikzhan, you left your wife in Turkey and fled to the United States. If you don’t like her, we need her. If she wants me, if I like her, I will spend a night with your wife, I will sleep in your house.”

“By founding Atajurt Human Rights, we have rescued thousands from Xinjiang re-education camps. We fight at one time on two front lines. The first front line is the Chinese Communist Party, and the second is Kazakhstan National Security. I saved so many from re-education camps, but could not save my own family. The American government gave no official support,” Bilash said.

On 5 January 2022, as protesters filled the streets of Kazakhstan, authorities declared a state of emergency. Police fired on protesters. Bilash criticised the “high level [governmental] revenge and mass arrests”. With Kazakh President Tokayev threatening punishment to all involved, and with Bilash’s family still within reach, Adilzahn told Index that it was “too dangerous” to stay in Turkey.

She added: “It seemed my people were winning until the Kazakh authority invited the Russian army in. They were killing people indiscriminately. Too many innocent people dying. Now my people are queuing for the morgues, and my birth city Almaty has been destroyed.” China Aid has since published an article titled “The Xinjiang Model repeated in Kazakhstan”.

Knowing the family had to act quickly Fu developed a plan.

“They decided to send someone to help me, as I am alone. I have three little children, three boys [1, 4 and 6 years old] and luggage. I couldn’t have gone by myself,” Adilzahn told Index. This is when Michael Horowitz, former OMB General Counsel to the Reagan Administration, and his wife Dr Devra Marcus agreed to accompany the family. They have housed many CCP-persecuted individuals, including Bilash.

Michael Horowitz accompanied Laila Adilzahn and her three sons to the Netherlands. Credit: China Aid

On 9 January the six travellers boarded a flight from Istanbul with a layover in the Netherlands, where they are currently being processed as priority asylum seekers.

Despite securing the family’s safety, Horowitz and Marcus were arrested on arriving at Schiphol airport. The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee spokesperson, Mike Hofman told Index, “On Sunday 9 January 2022, we arrested two American citizens for human trafficking. It’s suspected that they accompanied and assisted a family from Kazakhstan from Turkey to the Netherlands to apply for asylum.” He continued, “The American citizens were released from custody on Tuesday, but remain suspects.” On 12 January 2022, they arrived back in the USA.

“Last year alone China Aid rescued 17 endangered people, with six being brought to the Netherlands. We have never had this problem,” said Fu.

“The accusations against Mike and Devra are bizarre and absurd.”

The US Embassy Consular Affair Chief relayed the words of Horowitz and Marcus whilst detained: “It’s one of the great honors of my wife and mine that we have been able to play a role in helping to rescue two human rights heroes […] ”We are not traffickers.”

Michael Polak, Director and Barrister of Justice Abroad, told Index: “It is clear that Serikzhan Bilash and his family have faced intense danger and persecution because of his brave stance speaking up for ethnic Kazakhs stuck in Chinese camps whilst the Kazakh government stayed silent. It is clear that the Bilash family qualify as refugees, and it is great that they are in the Netherlands where they are safe. The arrest of the American nationals is oppressive and disproportionate, and it is hoped that they will not be charged given all the circumstances.”

Today Bilash and his family are now far away from Kazakhstan and indeed China. But they do not feel completely safe. As he tells Index: “Pro-Beijing forces are indeed rampant, everywhere, and are very powerful.”

States’ use of surveillance to fight pandemic must respect human rights

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is among 107 organisations that are urging governments to respect human rights and civil liberties as they attempt to tackle the coronavirus pandemic through digital surveillance technologies.

“As the coronavirus continues to spread and threaten public health, governments are taking unprecedented actions to bring it under control. But the pandemic must not be used to usher in invasive digital surveillance,” said Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy Research and Advocacy Officer at Index on Censorship. “Measures must have a legal basis, be targeted exclusively at curtailing the virus, and have safeguards in place to prevent violations of privacy.”


The Covid-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency that requires a coordinated and large-scale response by governments worldwide. However, states’ efforts to contain the virus must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive digital surveillance.

We, the undersigned organisations, urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures that the use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives, such as to spread public health messages and increase access to health care. However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, in ways that could violate rights and degrade trust in public authorities – undermining the effectiveness of any public health response. Such measures also pose a risk of discrimination and may disproportionately harm already marginalised communities.

These are extraordinary times, but human rights law still applies. Indeed, the human rights framework is designed to ensure that different rights can be carefully balanced to protect individuals and wider societies. States cannot simply disregard rights such as privacy and freedom of expression in the name of tackling a public health crisis. On the contrary, protecting human rights also promotes public health. Now more than ever, governments must rigorously ensure that any restrictions to these rights is in line with long-established human rights safeguards.

This crisis offers an opportunity to demonstrate our shared humanity. We can make extraordinary efforts to fight this pandemic that are consistent with human rights standards and the rule of law. The decisions that governments make now to confront the pandemic will shape what the world looks like in the future.

We call on all governments not to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic with increased digital surveillance unless the following conditions are met:

1. Surveillance measures adopted to address the pandemic must be lawful, necessary and proportionate. They must be provided for by law and must be justified by legitimate public health objectives, as determined by the appropriate public health authorities, and be proportionate to those needs. Governments must be transparent about the measures they are taking so that they can be scrutinized and if appropriate later modified, retracted, or overturned. We cannot allow the Covid-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indiscriminate mass surveillance.

2. If governments expand monitoring and surveillance powers then such powers must be time-bound, and only continue for as long as necessary to address the current pandemic. We cannot allow the Covid-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indefinite surveillance.

3. States must ensure that increased collection, retention, and aggregation of personal data, including health data, is only used for the purposes of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Data collected, retained, and aggregated to respond to the pandemic must be limited in scope, time-bound in relation to the pandemic and must not be used for commercial or any other purposes. We cannot allow the Covid-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse to gut individuals’ right to privacy.

4. Governments must take every effort to protect people’s data, including ensuring sufficient security of any personal data collected and of any devices, applications, networks, or services involved in collection, transmission, processing, and storage. Any claims that data is anonymous must be based on evidence and supported with sufficient information regarding how it has been anonymised. We cannot allow attempts to respond to this pandemic to be used as justification for compromising people’s digital safety.

5. Any use of digital surveillance technologies in responding to Covid-19, including big data and artificial intelligence systems, must address the risk that these tools will facilitate discrimination and other rights abuses against racial minorities, people living in poverty, and other marginalised populations, whose needs and lived realities may be obscured or misrepresented in large datasets. We cannot allow the Covid-19 pandemic to further increase the gap in the enjoyment of human rights between different groups in society.

6. If governments enter into data sharing agreements with other public or private sector entities, they must be based on law, and the existence of these agreements and information necessary to assess their impact on privacy and human rights must be publicly disclosed – in writing, with sunset clauses, public oversight and other safeguards by default. Businesses involved in efforts by governments to tackle Covid-19 must undertake due diligence to ensure they respect human rights, and ensure any intervention is firewalled from other business and commercial interests. We cannot allow the Covid-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for keeping people in the dark about what information their governments are gathering and sharing with third parties.

7. Any response must incorporate accountability protections and safeguards against abuse. Increased surveillance efforts related to Covid-19 should not fall under the domain of security or intelligence agencies and must be subject to effective oversight by appropriate independent bodies. Further, individuals must be given the opportunity to know about and challenge any Covid-19 related measures to collect, aggregate, and retain, and use data. Individuals who have been subjected to surveillance must have access to effective remedies.

8. Covid-19 related responses that include data collection efforts should include means for free, active, and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular experts in the public health sector and the most marginalized population groups.

7amleh – Arab Center for Social Media Advancement
Access Now
African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition
AI Now
Algorithm Watch
Alternatif Bilisim
Amnesty International
Asociación para una Ciudadanía Participativa, ACI Participa
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
ASUTIC, Senegal
Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
Barracón Digital
Big Brother Watch
Bits of Freedom
Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Economic Justice
Centro De Estudios Constitucionales y de Derechos Humanos de Rosario
Chaos Computer Club – CCC
Citizen D / Državljan D
Civil Liberties Union for Europe
Coding Rights
Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Cooperativa Tierra Común
Creative Commons Uruguay
D3 – Defesa dos Direitos Digitais
Data Privacy Brasil
Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support Center “DAAM”
Derechos Digitales
Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative (DRLI)
Digital Security Lab Ukraine
European Digital Rights – EDRi
Foundation for Information Policy Research
Foundation for Media Alternatives
Fundación Acceso (Centroamérica)
Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo, Ecuador
Fundación Datos Protegidos
Fundación Internet Bolivia
Fundación Taigüey, República Dominicana
Fundación Vía Libre
Hermes Center
Homo Digitalis
Human Rights Watch
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies
Index on Censorship
Initiative für Netzfreiheit
Innovation for Change – Middle East and North Africa
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
IT-Political Association of Denmark
Iuridicum Remedium z.s. (IURE)
La Quadrature du Net
Liberia Information Technology Student Union
Masaar “Community for Technology and Law”
Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria)
MENA Rights Group
Metamorphosis Foundation
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Open Data Institute
Open Rights Group
OutRight Action International
Panoptykon Foundation
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Citizen
Public Knowledge
R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
SHARE Foundation
Skyline International for Human Rights
Swedish Consumers’ Association
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
Tech Inquiry
The Bachchao Project
Unwanted Witness, Uganda
World Wide Web Foundation


Index calls the re-arrest of novelist Ahmet Altan “arbitrary and cruel”

Turkish authorities re-arrested the internationally known Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan just one week after his release from more than three years in detention. Index on Censorship and 24 other NGOs say that his re-arrest, on 12 November, was an extraordinarily low blow in a case that has been marked by political interference and arbitrariness from start to finish.

In addition to ongoing violations of his right to freedom of expression, stemming from a prosecution that should never have been brought in the first place, his re-arrest is a form of judicial harassment. Altan should be immediately released and his conviction vacated, the organisations say.

On 4 November this year, Altan was convicted of “aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member” and sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail. He was released on bail pending appeal against conviction by the defence. Altan had originally been convicted of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, that conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals who ordered a retrial on the lesser charge.

After the verdict in his retrial was handed down, the prosecutor appealed the decision to release him and on 12 November another panel of judges accepted this appeal and ruled that he should be re-arrested. Altan’s defence lawyers were not formally told of the court’s decision, but instead they learned about it through the pro-government media. Altan was detained later that evening and sent to Silivri Prison the following day.

Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits all arbitrary deprivation of liberty and the European Court of Human Rights has held that arbitrariness can arise where there has been an element of bad faith on the part of the authorities. Altan’s re-arrest and detention gives every appearance of being politically motivated, arbitrary, and incompatible with the right to liberty under Article 5. The organisations pointed to the following aspects of his re-arrest:

  • Despite having no right to do so, both the Turkish Presidency and Parliament sought to make representations arguing against the decision to release Altan – a move designed to put political pressure on the court.
  • The reasons the judge gave to cancel Altan’s release included that his activities “influenced many sympathisers through the news” and that “those who were interrogated for the same crime but fled the country have engaged in discourse and lobbying against our country’’ – grounds that are both unfounded and lack legitimacy as reasons to deprive someone of liberty. The judge further castigated Altan for refusing to show remorse for a crime he did not commit.
  • The judge also considered that Altan was a flight risk and issued a warrant for him to be re-arrested. However, the fact that the decision was almost immediately leaked to the media suggests that the authorities did not genuinely consider him to be a flight risk: Altan could have fled immediately upon hearing the news in the media. Instead, Altan was arrested at his home as he waited for the police. The next day, the court still sent him to prison custody insisting that he was a flight risk.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19 said: “The entire process of Ahmet Altan’s trial and retrial, including his prolonged detention, his release and then re-arrest on spurious grounds, has been completely arbitrary.

“The same court that convicted Altan of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ then oversaw a retrial and convicted him of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’, on the same evidence, which primarily consisted of Altan’s writings. That court then released him on bail and another court with no experience of the case ruled for his re-arrest.

“The case of Ahmet Altan is emblematic of the crackdown against writers and journalists in Turkey. Political revenge rather than justice has dominated the proceedings.”

Ahmet Altan’s case challenging his detention is still pending at the European Court of Human Rights. Other decisions by the ECtHR which are binding on Turkey and relate to prosecutions for free speech have had a significant impact on the outcome of the respective trials, including in the case of Ahmet’s brother, Mehmet Altan.

A ruling from the European Court setting out the scope and nature of the violations in Ahmet Altan’s case would likely have a decisive impact on his detention and the appeals process in his case.

We repeat our call for the Turkish authorities to release Ahmet Altan and vacate the conviction against him. The Turkish authorities should cease all judicial harassment of individuals on the basis of their political opinions and for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.



Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

Amnesty International

Articolo 21

Cartoonist’s Rights Network International (CRNI)

Danish PEN

English PEN

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

German PEN

Human Rights Watch


Index on Censorship

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Norwegian PEN

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

PEN America

PEN Canada

PEN International

P24, Platform for Independent Journalism

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

Swedish PEN

World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)



Ahmet Altan is an internationally known Turkish novelist who was convicted to life imprisonment without parole in February 2018 for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” in an unfair trial that primarily relied on his writings and comments in the media. His case was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals in July, who recommended a retrial on equally bogus charges of “aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member”. On 4 November this year, Altan was convicted on the new charges and sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. He was released on bail pending appeal, after having served more than three years in detention, awaiting trial or appeal. On 12 November he was returned to prison, just one week after his release.

In its verdict on 4 November, the judge ruled that the parliament and the presidency could not intervene in the case as victims. Despite this, on 5 November parliament made an application challenging, inter alia, Altan’s release. It also made a separate application challenging the verdict.

On 6 November, the prosecutor also challenged the decision to release Altan on the grounds that there was a flight risk, despite the fact that a foreign travel ban had been put in place.

On 7 November, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No 26 reviewed the legal challenges and confirmed its previous decision to release him and the case file was referred to the Heavy Penal Court No 27 for review.

On 8 November, the presidency challenged the verdict, including the release of Altan, stating that all defendants should be charged on the basis of the initial indictment.

On 11 November, the presiding judge and prosecutor of Heavy Penal Court No 27 were changed.

On 12 November, the court, with a new judge and prosecutor, reviewed the legal decision of Court No 26 and issued a ruling. The ruling was not provided to the defence lawyers, but was leaked to the pro-government press which immediately reported that an arrest warrant had been issued. Ahmet Altan was re-arrested that evening, before the decision was communicated to him, or his lawyers, officially.

On 13 November, Altan was taken before the presiding judge at Heavy Penal Court No 27 to review his arrest and decide on his transfer to prison. The judge ruled that he should be returned to prison.

Note: ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the court during the first trial, which examined the coup-related charges and evidence against international standards on the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch also assessed the indictment and, like ARTICLE 19, found that the journalistic works cited expressed political opinions and did not incite or advocate violence. No new evidence was presented at the retrial on terrorism charges.

Index calls on European Court of Human Rights to support Kurdish journalist 

İdris Sayılgan’s father Ramazan, mother Sebiha and sisters Tuğba and İrem are waiting for İdris (Credit: Özgün Özçer)


Global press freedom groups, including Index on Censorship, argue Turkey no longer offers domestic remedy

A coalition of 10 international press freedom and journalism organisations has intervened at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in support of a case brought by İdris Sayılğan, a Turkish-Kurdish journalist jailed since 2016 on baseless anti-terror charges. The intervention focuses on the crucial question of domestic remedy, which has significant implications for the ECtHR’s handling of cases from Turkey.

Jessica Ní Mhainín, policy research and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship said: “Journalists and others in Turkey who have been criminalised and imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression continue to be denied meaningful redress. We are hopeful that the ECtHR will recognise this lack of access to justice by accepting to take up İdris Sayılğan’s case. The situation in Turkey remains deeply concerning and journalists, such as Sayılğan, who speak out on issues relating to Turkey’s Kurdish minority remain particularly at risk.”

Sayılğan worked for the now-shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency (DİHA) before his arrest on October 7, 2016. Authorities did not inform him of the charge – membership of an armed terrorist organisation – until an indictment was produced nine months later. Typical of Turkey’s ongoing crackdown on the media, prosecutors’ evidence consists solely of Sayılğan’s journalistic work, indicating a politically driven effort to silence criticism.

His detention and trial have been marked by major violations of the right to a fair trial, described in documents filed by Sayılğan’s lawyers before the court. These violations include interference with Sayılğan’s right to legal counsel, denying him the right to appear personally in court, and preventing defence lawyers from calling witnesses. Sayılğan’s appeal to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, filed in July 2018, has gone unanswered. In January 2019, Sayılğan was sentenced to eight years and three months in prison.

The coalition’s intervention argues that the ECtHR should not require applicants from Turkey, such as Sayılğan, to first exhaust all “domestic remedies” – proceeding through all stages of the national-level appeals process – before applying to the Court. This argument is based on evidence that Turkey’s justice system, including the Constitutional Court, no longer offers an effective remedy. Judicial independence has been compromised and courts are unable to address cases in a fair, timely and consistent manner. The ECtHR’s current insistence on domestic remedy in Turkey largely prevents journalists and others from obtaining any meaningful redress to fundamental rights violations suffered.

“Idris Sayılğan’s case is but one of hundreds of examples of arbitrary detention and prosecution of Turkey’s journalists and the abject failure of a judicial system cowed by the political forces unleashed in 2016 to silence criticism,” said IPI Turkey Programmes Manager Oliver Money-Kyrle. “The European Court of Human Rights can offer a first step towards justice by recognising the absence of domestic remedy and accepting to take up Sayılğan’s case.”

A total of 130 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, and most are the victims of a wide-ranging crackdown on critics of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was set in motion following the July 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent enaction of a State of Emergency. Anti-terror laws have been Turkey’s main tool of choice to prosecute the press, though journalists have been frequently held for extended periods without official charges. Indictments invariably rely on journalists’ professional work, including articles, social media posts and conversations with sources. Trials are marked by violations of basic rights of defence.

Sayılğan is represented before the ECtHR by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and the Turkey-based Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA). The application argues violations of Article 5 (liberty and security), 6 (fair trial), 10 (freedom of expression), 13 (effective remedy) and 18 (limitation on rights).

The Intervention was submitted by the International Press Institute (IPI) on Friday, October 18, on behalf of a coalition of leading press and freedom of expression organisations including Article 19, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ),  the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), English PEN, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Index on Censorship, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and PEN International. The intervention was drafted with the help of international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.