Kurdish human rights defenders from East Kurdistan / Iran have written a letter to Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International. In this letter they express their concern about the violent and degrading treatment of Kurdish and non-Kurdish activists, who were protesting last week in the London office of Amnesty International against the global silence regarding the extensive hunger strike of Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey.

The human rights activists, believing that Amnesty International has violated the principle of freedom of peaceful assembly and the most basic standards of human dignity mounting to a humiliating treatment, call for recognizing the violations of the protestors’ rights and an official apology. They demand an independent and swift investigation of this matter.

Kaveh Kermanshahi, spokesperson of Kurdistan Human Rights Network and one of the signatories of this letter, said: “Amnesty International’s actions of ending a peaceful sit-in violently by means of police force were, in view of being the largest NGO and international human rights organization, very shocking. Such an attitude of an organization which is supposed to be on the side of the oppressed is beyond imagination.
Symbolic occupations of representations of media, political parties, and human rights organizations, in order to attract attention to certain events, belong to a widely accepted protest tradition and Amnesty International offices across the globe have experienced such situations many times. However, it seems to be the first time that personnel in charge has been willing to expose protesters to police brutality and approved them to be taken to detention centers.”

According to various news reports, representatives of Amnesty International London did neither pay serious attention to the demands of the activists nor provide unconditional access to lavatories during their sit-in, but eventually asked the police to intervene in order to have the protest ended and to have the protesters expelled from their office rooms.

The full text of the statement which was sent yesterday to the secretary general of Amnesty International reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International,

We are writing this letter as Kurdish human rights defenders and former prisoners of conscience to express our deep concerns about the decision of Amnesty International to call the police to forcibly end a sit-in that was held in its office in protest against the silence of international human rights organizations – including Amnesty International – regarding the situation of hundreds of hunger striking Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey.

The videos available online, which shows the police forcibly removing the protestors from the premises of Amnesty International, have left us and many other human rights activists in shock. The protestors, who included both Kurdish and non-Kurdish activists, had held a sit-in to draw international attention to the plight of hunger striking Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey. This collective hunger strike has been going on for several weeks and is in protest against the ongoing isolation of Abdullah Öcalan. Some reports indicate that the prisoners’ health has seriously deteriorated.

We are deeply concerned that Amnesty International did not engage with the activists in a constructive manner, denied them unconditional access to toilet facilities during the sit-in, and ultimately asked the police to intervene to end the protest and forcibly remove all the protesters from its premises. We are further shocked that in a subsequent public statement, Amnesty International mischaracterized the entire action as violent to justify its heavy-handed approach even though the footage that we have seen online shows that some of the protesters who were forcibly removed were peaceful and were not involved with the violent confrontation that Amnesty International describes in its statement.

We find it extremely shocking that such actions and positions have been taken by an organization such as Amnesty International that has regularly deplored the use of excessive force to suppress peaceful protesters around the world, and reminded states that an individual does not cease to enjoy the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as a result of violent acts committed by others in the course of an assembly if the individual in question remains peaceful in their intentions or behaviors.

We are further outraged that Amnesty International used access to toilet as a tool to disrupt a peaceful action, and coerce individuals into ending their protest and leaving the organization’s building. Amnesty International certainly knows that, in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, restricting access to toilet facilities constitutes a clear violation of the right to health. We believe that by engaging in this abusive practice, Amnesty International denied the protesters their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, violated the most basic standards of human dignity, and committed an abuse that amounts to degrading treatment. We feel compelled to remind you that this incident might sadly recall painful experiences for some people about their detention where interrogators, in some cases, conditioned the access to toilet on “cooperation” and making “forced confessions”.

The regrettable actions of Amnesty International officials in London has left us wondering if there was no other way for the organization to engage with the protesters, note their concerns and demands and avoid the escalation that ultimately resulted in several activists being detained and charged? On what basis has Amnesty International used the alleged aggression of several protesters as a pretext to take pre-emptive measures against the remaining protesters who were peaceful? Does Amnesty International acknowledge that the regrettable incidents that have unfolded warrant a full, independent investigation in order to establish whether the organization has violated any of its own ethical principles and values and human rights policies and standards?

Mr. Secretary-General,

The signatories of this letter are human rights defenders who have worked in this field for years and have suffered severe consequences such as imprisonment, torture, and exile as a result. Although during the hard times of our imprisonment in Iran, we were heart-warmingly supported by Amnesty International, we have come to face the bitter fact that by and large, Kurdish political prisoners in Iran and Turkey receive less media attention and human rights protection, as compared to other prisoners, both domestically and abroad.

On behalf of Kurdish human rights activists who have always deeply cared about the work of Amnesty International and with the hope that your organization will demonstrate its commitment to accountability, we would like to conclude this letter by calling on Amnesty International to conduct a prompt, independent impartial investigation into these grave concerns about its irresponsible and abusive treatment of the protesters during their presence at Amnesty International. Should the investigation establish that Amnesty International has acted in breach of international human rights standards and its own ethical principles and values, we expect that it will issue a formal apology and make a commitment that such violations would not reoccur in the future.

Lastly, we hope that Amnesty International will pay greater attention to the human rights situation of Kurdish people in general and Kurdish political prisoners in particular, and thereby demonstrate that it continues to be committed to the cause of “forgotten prisoners”; the very reason for the formation of Amnesty International.