“I dedicated my life to truth, human rights and justice. Now I am here being charged with membership in a terrorist organisation,” stated Dalkiran, during her court appearance on 25 October. “I have no idea why we’re here,” she concluded.
Dalkiran is an active member of Citizens’ Assembly and a founding member of Amnesty International Turkey. She was among eight human rights defenders to be released on bail following a 12-hour hearing in the Çağlayan court, Istanbul.
The statement that she delivered in court was not her first public message to follow her arrest. On 24 August, she penned a letter from prison in defiance of her situation and stating that she will not be beaten:
“This absurd situation we find ourselves in cannot compel me to give up the struggle for rights or doubt myself. As Ilhan Selçuk [renowned author and journalist] said, ‘Every person chisels their own sculpture: it turns out that I was meant to chisel some of the twists and twines of mine in here’.”
For 17 years Özlem Dalkiran has collaborated with Human Rights House Foundation, has been a dear friend to many in the network of Human Rights Houses, and has attended 10-year and 20-year anniversaries of this community.
“When authorities arrest peaceful human rights campaigners, it shows their ignorance of legitimate human rights work and their fear of dissent and independent voices holding them to account for their international human rights obligations,” commented Human Rights House Foundation’s (HRHF’s) Director, Maria Dahle.
Dalkiran has been instrumental in assisting threatened human rights defenders and partners of HRHF, including Intigam Aliyev, Azerbaijani human rights lawyer, who was detained for more than 24 hours and beaten by an immigration official at Istanbul airport in 2011. With the assistance of Dalkiran and her colleagues, Intigam Aliyev was released and deported back to Baku.
Aliyev, who himself was once a political prisoner, reflected on sending a letter of support to Dalkiran in prison: “When you receive your friends’ letters in prison, it is an unexpected joy. However, it feels very, very sad when you have to write to prison yourself. It is terribly unfair that people are arrested for defending the rights of others.”
“Unfortunately, we live in countries where authoritarian governments criminalise human rights work. Nevertheless, people who have inner freedom, like Özlem and her friends, remain free even when imprisoned. It is owing to people like Özlem that the good will conquer evil. I am proud that I have such a friend, courageous, devoted to the human rights values and, at the same time, very kind and very beautiful – a real Human Rights Defender,” commented Aliyev. “We love you, we are proud of you, and we are waiting for you, your friends, and our friends to be released very soon,” he added.
In 2014, Dalkiran aided in the safe transportation of Ilgar Nasibov, the badly-beaten husband of Mahlahat Nasibova, founder of Human Rights House Nakchivan, to Turkey for medical attention following a raid on the Human Rights House.
Özlem Dalkiran (front, left) and Ilgar Nasibov (front, right) at the 20th anniversary of the network of Human Rights Houses, during a march for solidarity with political prisoners in Oslo.
On 21 August 2014, masked men raided the Human Rights House offices and severely beat Ilgar Nasibov. “It was a horrible time,” said Malahat Nasibova in 2015, “My husband was suffering and I feared for his life. In Baku, where there are better hospitals and doctors, our friends and colleagues had been arrested and we could not put the ones still free in more danger than they already were.”
On 5 July, Özlem Dalkiran was detained in Turkey along with several other human rights defenders while they attended a security workshop. She now faces up to 15 years in prison. On 18 July 2017, she was charged with “aiding an armed terrorist organisation” and engaging in ‘illegal activities,’ along with Nalan Erkem, Seyhmuz Ozbekli, Idil Eser, Veli Acu, Gunal Kursun, Ilknur Ustun, Nejat Tastan, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner.
“Özlem is one of the most decent, sincere and peace-loving people that I have ever met, and has dedicated her life to securing truth and justice for all. I look forward to seeing her again,” concluded Maria Dahle.
Özlem Dalkiran is a member of the Citizens’ Assembly (formerly known as Helsinki Citizens Assembly), an organisation promoting peace, democracy and civil society throughout Europe. She is a founding member of Amnesty International Turkey, and is their former head of media and former chair for two terms.