Nimet Tanrıkulu is one of the most prominent human rights defenders since the September 12 coup. She has survived torture while in custody. She is among the founding members of the Human Rights Association (İHD), 78’ers Initiative and Women for Peace Initiative. She is also among the Saturday Mothers/People. She has been taken in custody numerous times due to her human rights work, there have been tens of lawsuits opened against her. Currently there are two investigations and two lawsuits against her.
Nimet Tanrıkulu is of Kurdish origin from Çobanyıldızı village of Pülümür district of Dersim. She was born in Feriköy, Istanbul where her family migrated. Her family returned to Dersim due to her mother’s illness. She started attending primary school in Pülümür Tosniye (Gökçekonak). Her family migrated back to Istanbul after a while due to hardship and for education of their children. She became a member of Tunceliler Education and Health Foundation during her student years with her father’s encouragement. She served as the director of the foundation for a period. It was not until 2004 that the foundation could only change Tunceli to Dersim in its name.
Tanrıkulu studied at the School of Economics (İktisat Fakültesi), then went on to study at the Higher Education School of Justice (Adalet Yüksek Okulu). She graduated with a master’s degree from Bilgi University on Human Rights Law. The title of her dissertation was ‘Women and Peace’. She worked as a business administrator for years but had to leave her job due to security concerns at her workplace.
During the September 12 coup, she was about to enter the high school graduation exams as she was preparing for university. She was arrested amidst her mother’s cries and the authorities told them she will be released within couple of days. She was interrogated at the Political Office of Istanbul Security Directorate in Gayrettepe and was tortured. One of her teeth was broken, left arm disabled, jaw dislocated, and part of her hair was torn from its roots. Her naked body was electrocuted, beaten and she had to endure reverse (‘Palestinian’) hanging. The ringing in her ears that started during this period continue to this day. She was then transferred to Metris Prison, and was released at the first court hearing.
This period encouraged Tanrıkulu to devote her life to the struggle for human rights. She has worked for the amelioration of prison conditions alongside relatives and friends of prisoners. She has been active in the socialist feminist movement. She was among the founding members of the Human Rights Association (İHD) and defended human rights for over 25 years with İHD. She also served as the Chairperson of the Istanbul Office and as a director of the Board of İHD Headquarters.
She served in campaigns for amnesty for death penalty, human chain/trains for peace, peace demonstrations, women prisoners, Don’t Touch My Friend and Don’t Touch My Munzur; and campaigns against uniforms in prisons, missing persons in custody. She is also among Saturday Mothers/People. She attended almost all the first 200 sit-ins. She was beaten with batons and arrested by the police during the sit-ins at Galatasaray Square. She does not remember how many times she was taken in custody, or the number of lawsuits against her during this period. On December 10, 1996, she received the Carl Von Ossietzky Award from The Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte (International League for Human Rights) as a representative of the Saturday Mothers. She later received the Sevinç Özgüner Award.
On May 30, 1998, Mothers of Plaza del Mayo in Argentina met with Saturday Mothers in Galatasaray. Argentine women were hosted by Tanrıkulu for nine days.
In 2009, she was among the founding members of the Women for Peace Initiative. She led a struggle alongside 78’ers Initiative, a movement that expanded from 78’ers to a general rights and freedoms of the disadvantaged members of society. Its primary agenda items are accountability for September 12 coup, documentation, and finding democratic means for solidarity. She participated in the campaign for ‘We Demand Rights as Citizens’ (Yurttaşlık Haklarını İstiyoruz). She also lent a hand for the struggle to revoke the 15th Temporary Clause of the Constitution which grants immunity to those behind the coup, and for setting up a September 12 Truth and Justice Commission. She contributed to the works of Diyarbakır Truth and Justice Commission.
Tanrıkulu is also a member of Amnesty International.
Nimet Tanrıkulu has been taken in custody numerous times due to her human rights work. More than 35 lawsuits were opened against her. She received death threats when Susurluk scandal broke. Her family and workplace were under threat during that period. She left her job for the safety and security of here colleagues. Currently there are two investigations and two lawsuits against her.
Eight years later, a lawsuit was filed against Tanrıkulu at Diyarbakır 8th High Criminal Court for her work during 2011-2012. It is alleged that she "acted as the Personal and Institutional Delegate of the DTK (Democratic Society Congress), attended its meetings, and was in charge of DTK Marmara". Her phone conversation with Emma Sinclair Webb, the representative of International Human Rights Watch, is cited as criminal evidence. While the Peace Process was continuing in 2013, Tanrıkulu was invited by the parties to the Process to monitor PKK armed forces leaving the country. Her participation to monitoring is now being used to associate her with the PKK/KCK.
The next hearing of the case was held on October 26, 2021. It was claimed that Tanrıkulu spoke Kurdish, with secret witness statements and some phone records. A Kurdish text, which was said to be heard in her voice, was asked to be read. Despite Tanrıkulu's statement, "I can't speak, read, write in Kurdish," the court requested a re-recording of the sound and postponed the case on the grounds that it did not produce sufficient results.
Tanrıkulu was detained from her home on the charge of "insulting the President" after the Feminist Night March held in Taksim, Istanbul on March 8, 2021, and an investigation was launched against her. The indictment, which was prepared on 10 August 2021, demanding prison sentences for 17 women detained in the same action, was accepted by the 10th Criminal Court of First Instance.
The first hearing of the case was held on March 1, 2022. In her statement, Nimet Tanrıkulu demanded acquittal by stating that she had participated in the Feminist Night March for 19 years and that they had exercised their political rights within the scope of freedom of expression. The court decided that the women whose statements were taken should be excluded from the hearing and that the judicial control decisions against them be lifted. The next hearing will be held on September 23, 2022.