Europe Newsletter January 2023


This month we bring you news from Türkiye, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia, Greece, Croatia, Hungary & Bulgaria. There are several actions you can take.

Prof Şebnem Korur Fincancı : verdict

The third and final hearing in the baseless prosecution of human rights defender, forensic medicine expert and head of the Turkish Medical Association Prof Şebnem Korur Fincancı ( see October 2022 newsletter for case details) was held on 11 January. Regrettably, the court found her guilty of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ and sentenced her to two years eight months and 15 days in prison.

The court also ruled that she be released from pre-trial detention where she has been held since 27 October 2022 pending appeal. The decision to release her is very welcome though the prosecutor can appeal this, as we have seen in other cases.

For now, the International Secretariat has requested that we stop sending appeals – they will issue an update as appropriate once they have determined the next strategy in this case.

Many thanks for all the appeals that were sent. The responses received by many from the chief public prosecutor’s office were pro-forma replies, not quite relevant to our appeals, but it was interesting to see the difference between the Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office (the initial target) who appeared to have blocked the appeals from reaching them and the Istanbul one who replied.

The link below takes you to the prison diaries Şebnem has been writing since her in initial detention. Although the “machine translation” is less than perfect they still give a really vivid impression of life in a Turkish prison and in her comments and concerns about the plight of fellow prisoners her commitment to the needs of others shines through.

Saturday Mothers

The next hearing in the prosecution of the 46 people including relatives and human rights defenders, namely the Saturday Mothers / People is going to take place on 3 February and not 23 February as indicated in some of the previous communications from the IS.

The hearing and latest developments

While no major development is expected at this hearing (around seven of the 46 defendants have not yet given their initial statement at the trial and this is what is likely to be completed), it is still important to maintain attention on the case, especially because AI has also found out that another prosecution has been initiated against 14 relatives / people from the group linked to their attempt to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August last year – the first hearing in this new prosecution is set for 4 May. The criminalisation of their right to peaceful protest continues and the solidarity with them is ever more important.

Proposed action

In the week before 3 February please can you do posts on your social media channels (Twitter/Facebook/Instagram) to draw attention to the case.

If you can, photograph yourself or members of your group holding a poster  saying “I/we stand with the Saturday Mothers”

Accompany the photograph with either the following suggested wordings or use your own similar messages :

[We/I] stand with the Saturday Mothers / People, who are being unfairly prosecuted for their peaceful protest.

[We/I] call for their acquittal and for the ban on  protests in Galatasaray Square to be lifted.

Peaceful protest is a legal right – seeking truth and justice for loved ones who were disappeared is a legal right. We/I stand with Saturday Mothers / People in their pursuit of justice and call for their acquittal.

Turkiyes longest peaceful protest must be allowed to continue. Saturday Mothers / People must be allowed to return to Galatasaray Sq. [We/I] stand with them in their pursuit of justice for their disappeared loved ones.  

Please use the hashtag #SaturdayMothers in your posts and tag the official Saturday mothers social media account @CmrtesiAnneleri

Büyükada case : All four defendants acquitted

In case anyone has not received the information from any other sources here is the link to the Amnesty press release regarding the acquittal of the defendants in late November 2022.

A word of caution, however. The decision of the Court of Cassation has to be ratified by the so called first instance court in the next few months and Taner Kilic faces a possible retrial on one charge so we do still  need to monitor this case very closely.


New Report on Latvia: Shocking treatment of refugees

Latvia: Return home or never leave the woods

Last year on 15th January 2022 Amnesty activists all over the UK and Europe (Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Turkey and more) took action to protest about the suffering of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other repressive and war-torn regions trapped in the freezing forests bordering Belarus and Poland, violently pushed back by border police from both sides.

amnesty international

In Spring 22, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe showed compassion and understanding when welcoming hundreds of thousands refugees from Ukraine every month, allowing free travel and removing red tape, allowing Ukrainian refugees to find sanctuary, be allowed to rest and breathe and find work to rebuild their lives. Particularly Poland should be commended for receiving more than one million Ukrainian refugees, and small countries like Latvia welcomed and integrated over 35000 and enabled others to travel further to other parts of the European Union.

But the cruel treatment of refugees from other repressive and war-torn countries, particularly those lured to Belarus with false promises and forced into the forests at the borders to Poland, Latvia and Lithuania has not changed.

In June 22 Amnesty released a shocking report about the treatment of refugees in Lithuania : Lithuania: Forced out or locked up – Refugees and migrants abused and abandoned

In October Amnesty published a report on Latvia :



The prospects of individuals and families, some with small children, at the borders with Belarus were starkly different to the welcome of refugees from Ukraine. People remained stranded in the forested areas at the border for weeks or months, exposed to frigid temperatures and became victims of repeated, often violent summary returns to Belarus, in violation of the prohibition on collective expulsions and the obligation of non-refoulement. People interviewed for this research reported that, upon crossing into Latvia, law enforcement officers, who in most cases appeared to be border guards, typically apprehended them, and handed them over to the commandos. In some cases, commandos would then directly return them to Belarus.  People were also held in tents staffed by commandos, under appalling sanitary conditions, often given very little food and many were beaten and tortured with electroshock. Others remained stranded in the forest. People’s phones were often confiscated upon apprehension, so that they had no notion of their whereabouts and could not communicate with the outside world.

In some cases, people reported that they had no other way out of the border area but for agreeing to return to their countries “voluntarily”. Some people “agreed” to return after spending extended periods in the tents or stranded in the border area in abysmal living conditions. In some cases, they agreed after physical abuse or threats. Other people stated that they were misled or forced into signing return papers after being transferred to detention facilities or police stations. Many incidents of this type relate to the Daugavpils detention centre, but some individuals reported that Latvian authorities forced them to agree to return in a facility which appears to be Mucenieki detention centre.

 There were no rights for people attempting to enter Latvia from Belarus. Instead, the Latvian authorities violated the right to seek asylum; unlawfully and often violently forced people back toward Belarus in repeated pushbacks; tortured and ill-treated people; subjected many to excessive use of force; and arbitrarily detained people in secret locations, possibly amounting to enforced disappearance in some cases. The catalogue of human rights violations committed by Latvian state actors and their agents as reflected in this report is long and shocking – and is in sharp distinction to the way people fleeing the war in Ukraine have been welcomed in Latvia. Following the lead of Poland and Lithuania, on 10 August 2021, Latvia invoked and has repeatedly extended a state of emergency that allows the authorities to carry out summary and therefore unlawful returns known as pushbacks and suspends the right to seek asylum in four areas at the border with Belarus.

Click here for the full report

Please write personal letters or emails to the Ambassador of Latvia to the UK

To the attention of her Excellency Ambassador, raising your concerns about pushbacks, mistreatment and forced returns of vulnerable asylum seekers including children.

Sample letter:

To Ms Ivita Burmistre Ambassador of Latvia to the UK

45 Nottingham Place

London W1U5LY

Dear Excellency

I am shocked and deeply concerned about the findings of the recent report by Amnesty International:


The report details how refugees, often families with small children, after crossing the border from Belarus have been either forcibly returned to Belarus by “Commandos” working with the border police, or held in tents in the forest, under appalling sanitary conditions, with very little food. The report details how some refugees have been beaten, some tortured with electroshocks and some forced or coerced into signing “voluntary return “papers.

I can not comprehend how a country that showed such exemplary compassion and welcome to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine can be so indifferent to the suffering of people fleeing war and repression in other parts of the world.

I want to urge you to ask the government of Latvia to immediately halt pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Belarus and ensure that all asylum seekers have access to a fair asylum procedure.

In addition, I want to urge you to ask the government of Latvia to conduct an independent, impartial and effective investigation into all allegations of human rights violations described in this report, including acts of excessive use of force and physical violence, including torture, unlawful detention in tents and alleged enforced disappearances.

Yours sincerely


The El Hiblu 3   

The El Hiblu 3 will return to court next month. Please continue to help support their campaign and urge the Maltese authorities to drop the charges against them. Do keep me updated on what actions you are doing and if you require further ideas to help their campaign. Do also engage with the ElHiblu3 group on twitter and Instagram to find more about this action.


Jaša Jenull – Proceedings Against Protestor Withdrawn

amnesty international

Previously on the 9th March 2022, Jaša was called to pay over 40,000 Euros for the cost of policing a protest which he attended on the 19th June 2020 along with several dozen others on Republic Square in Ljubljana. There they read the Constitution in protest against constraints on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities had claimed that they had not been notified about the protest and so they claimed that the payment of policing costs was justifiable. However, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is protected under human rights laws such as the European Convention of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, thus policing costs is a barrier to exercising this right. Even if the protest is spontaneous, as long as it is peaceful, the authorities have no right to justify the prevention of this human right.

But in October 2022, the proceedings against Jaša were WITHDRAWN. The case is extremely significant as it is a win for activists who wish to exercise their right to peacefully protest and who will not be threatened by authorities to pay exorbitant policing costs.

Thank you to all who signed the petition and supported AI Slovenia and Jaša Jenull. Following the withdrawal of the proceedings against him, Jaša Jenull thanked Amnesty International’s supporters and members that took action on his case and he said: “Thank you for your signatures, thank you for your actions, thank you for each little thing that you do, it actually counts and it is much better than being silent or just despairing for the state of the world. Please keep it up, please support activists, fighters, active citizens all over the world who are trying to fight for these values, for these basic human values. And yes, it will be needed in the future as well, but if we stay connected, if we stay active, if we collaborate, over the borders, together, I think there is a reason for optimism, like now in Slovenia, where we have reasons to be optimist. Thank you again and keep up the good work and see you in the streets”.


Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini

Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini
Sean Binder and Sarah Mardini

Sarah and Seán are professional sea rescuers who used their skills to volunteer and help migrants and refugees on Lesvos. Sarah and her Olympic swimmer sister became well known in 2015 when they both towed the rubber boat they were travelling in and thus saved the lives of everyone on board. This extraordinary action has recently inspired the Netflix film “The Swimmers” (2022):-

The Swimmers | Official Trailer | Netflix

In July 2018, both Seán and Sarah were charged with espionage, disclosure of state secrets, unlawful use of radio frequencies and forgery. As well as this, they were charged with serious crimes such as facilitating irregular entry of third country nationals, money laundering and fraud. These charges mean that these two human rights defenders could face up to 20 years in prison. Since being charged with these crimes, both Sarah and Sean have attempted to live normally and have continued to be a voice for refugees and other human rights defenders who are being criminalised in Europe.

But Sarah and Sean, along with 22 other human rights defenders, appeared before the Court of Appeal in Lesvos on the 10th January 2023 for the first three charges mentioned above which can give them up to 8 years in prison.

Greece prosecutes 24 humanitarian aid workers, charges include espionage and forgery | DW News

Amnesty is calling on the Greek authorities to end the prosecution and close all investigations against Sarah and Sean, so that they can both go on to lead a normal life and continue with their human rights work. These charges aim to undermine the work of human rights defenders who seek to support and protect migrants and refugees. Both volunteers simply carried out legitimate humanitarian work, by spotting dinghies in distress and providing support, food and blankets to refugees arriving on Lesvos. During their time volunteering for a Greek NGO, they provided a washing service, educational activities for children and a medical clinic.

Four years have now passed and they are both stuck with these charges hanging over their heads. Help us pressure the Greek authorities to drop all the baseless charges against Sean and Sarah. They are human rights defenders who should never have been brought to trial in the first place and we must help set a precedent in Greece that human rights defenders must not be undermined and criminalised for their human rights work.

As a an action, you can write to the Greek ambassador in the UK; Embassy of Greece in London. You can also show your support for Sean and Sarah on twitter by tagging them @sean_binder_   and @SarahMardini44

‘We urge the Greek authorities once more to drop all of the charges and allow Sarah and Sean to go back to their lives. The criminalization of these brave human rights defenders solely for helping refugees and migrants in need shows Greece and Europe’s callous behaviour towards people seeking safety at their borders.’

Nils Muižnieks, Director of European Regional Office, Amnesty International

Read Amnesty’s press release on this trial here: Greece: Authorities must ‘drop all charges’ against refugee rescue volunteers | Amnesty International UK.

Read the BBC’s article here: Greek trial of 24 rescuers who saved migrants in Med begins – BBC News.

Read the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner response; Trial of human rights defenders in Greece for helping migrants | OHCHR.


Croatia Joins Schengen despite human rights abuses at the border

On the 8th December 2022, Croatia was accepted into the Schengen area despite consistent reports of human rights abuses, such as breaching the right to asylum, neglecting the non-refoulement principle and using violence, torture and ill-treatment to pushback migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Read Amnesty’s joint statement with the Human Rights Watch and others on the EU ‘turning a blind eye’ to the abuse of refugees at Croatia’s border here: EU admits Croatia to Schengen Without Regard to Abuses at the Border – European Institutions Office (

Croatia, Hungary & Bulgaria

Detention along the EU’s Borders

Recent Lighthouse Reports disclose the horrific, secret ‘cage-like structures’ and ‘containers’ used by countries along the EU’s borders. Asylum seekers have declared that they are often denied ‘food or water’, ‘sometimes attacked with pepper spray’ and placed with a number of others in tight containers where there is no room for fresh air, before they are forcibly pushed back by the national police.

Read more about ‘Europe’s Black Sites’ here: Europe’s Black Sites – Lighthouse Reports.