Türkiye: “If I felt unable to make a difference, I would stop”

As a Turkish woman human rights defender, Vetha Aydin was imprisoned for a year in 2010 and is now banned from travelling. She still believes in the fight for human rights, following in her father's footsteps.

Vetha Aydin is a woman human rights defender and member of the Turkish Human Rights Association (İnsan Haklari Derneği – İHD) since 2001. She was imprisoned for a year in 2010 and is now banned from travelling. She still believes in the fight for human rights, following in her father's footsteps.

How did your journey in the defence of human rights begin?

My hometown of Siirt is where I first witnessed the oppression of the State. I grew up amid unsolved murders, armed conflicts, frequent arrests and village fires set by armed forces to displace people. The primary school I attended was close to an area where bodies of murdered people lay in mass graves. In this harsh environment, members of my family were often detained and tortured. In 1996, I met people from the Siirt branch of the Human Rights Association (HRA), and in 1999, I was detained during a police raid in Istanbul. The HRA supported me, and in 2001, I officially joined the association.

What type of cases do you work on with the HRA?

Requests from families faced with enforced disappearances, cases of sexual abuse, rape and torture of women and children, as well as forest fires to forcibly evacuate and displace villagers. For example, I met a family seeking to identify their child, a victim of bombing raids, most likely carried out by the army. Official identification was refused. Another shocking case was that of a woman who had been raped by the police with a truncheon during raids in the village in the presence of her family.

What pressures have you faced in your fight for human rights?

As a woman from Siirt who deviates from the injunctions of the State and the community, I have come up against considerable pressure in my human rights activities. I was dismissed as a nurse in the municipality of Siirt under pressure from the police and the army. The armed forces often intervene during our street demonstrations. Our association has been the subject of more than 70 investigations, resulting in criminal charges for activities such as making statements to the press and visiting prisons. I am subject to a travel ban from legal proceedings initiated in 2009. Despite the threats, I remain undeterred and faithful to my commitment.

Have you been deprived of your freedom because of your human rights activities?

In 2010, I was arrested and spent a year in prison, where I faced physical aggression and threats. As soon as I arrived there, the guards attempted a strip search, but I resisted and prevented it. I was very affected by the fact that my father, who’s also a member of the HRA, was imprisoned next to me. However, we were together during the monthly family visits, which brought us a certain relief. In 2017, I was detained again for four days, and a travel ban was imposed.

Despite the hard times, what does defending human rights mean to you?

Defending human rights is a source of pride for me. The experience of working with victims, listening to their concerns and seeing the smiles on their faces when something is resolved is invaluable.

Have your efforts produced measurable positive results in the lives of your fellow citizens?

There has been a significant decrease in torture in enforced disappearances in Türkiye. However, the legislative changes made to align with international law in the early years of the country's bid to join the European Union have not been implemented in practice. My freedom of expression remains limited.

What are your hopes for the human rights movement in Türkiye?

Our efforts play a crucial role in the fight for human rights. If I felt unable to make a difference, I would stop. It is this conviction and hope for the future that drive me forward.

Part 1 – Türkiye: “I've been arrested and sent to prison”- a human rights lawyer tells his story