Two weeks later, he remains in prison awaiting trial. He was among 80 people arrested on accusation of having links with an organisation said to be affiliate to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Muharrem Erbey is a highly respected human rights lawyer, and Vice President of the Human Rights Association (IHD) who has conducted research into disappearances and extra-judicial killings in and around the Diyabakir region. We at PEN share concerns of other human rights observers that Muharrem Erbey’s arrest appears to be linked to his human rights advocacy.
Muharrem Erbey, aged 40, is a lawyer who has since the late 1990s worked on human rights issues, for which he has gained international respect. He has represented a number of individuals whose cases have come to the European Court on Human Rights. In 2008 he became Vice President of the IHD, one of Turkey’s most reputable human rights associations. He is also President of the Diyabakir Branch of the IHD.
According to reports, members of the Anti-Terror Unit of the Diyabakir Security Directorate took Erbey from his home in the early hours of 24 December 2009. Erbey is charged under Article 220/6 of the Penal Code with “membership of an illegal organisation”, the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK), said to be affiliated to the banned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). He is held in Diyabakir D Type Prison. Around 80 others were arrested across the region, 23 of whom are said to remain detained.
Commentators have referred to recent visits by Erbey to various European parliaments, including in Sweden, Belgium and the UK, where he spoke on Kurdish rights. He had also participated in a Kurdish film festival staged in Italy in late 2009. In September 2009 he had taken part in a workshop on minority rights in Diyabakir. At the time of his arrest, the offices of the IHD were searched and documentation seized, including archives on serious human rights violations over the past two decades, including extra judicial killings and disappearances.
Also a writer, Erbey’s collection of short stories, My Father, Aharon Usta, is due to be published shortly. In 2007 he was a co-editor of a collection of Turkish and Kurdish language stories by 35 authors, distributed by the Diyabakir Metropolitan Municipality free to local people. The Mayor who organised the publication was subsequently brought to trial under a law that prohibited the use of the Kurdish alphabet (since annulled). Erbey defended the Mayor who was subsequent acquitted, and after Erbey had gathered 300 writers’ signatures against the court hearing. Another short story collection, Missing Pedigree was published in 2004. He has written many articles on culture, children’s and human rights that have appeared in arts and culture magazines, newspapers and websites. He is a member of PEN Turkey and the Kurdish Writers’ Association.
The trial first opened in October 2010 when 151 high profile Kurdish political and civil society leaders including six newly elected MPs, six elected mayors from cities in southeast Turkey. The protracted trial which resumed again on 2 August has stalled with the defendants seeking to defend themselves in the Kurdish language which is not officially recognised by the courts. A 7,578-page indictment has charged the defendants variously with offences such as “aiming to destroy the unity and integrity of the state”, being a “member or leading member of the PKK”, and “aiding and abetting the PKK”, for which they face penalties of between 15 years and life in prison.
Muharrem Erbey is since December 2009 placed currently in pre-trial detention in the notorious prison of Diyarbakir.