For 15 years, the Tarlabaşı Community Support Association - Tarlabaşı Community Center (TTM) has been working to build safe spaces for women and children to come together in Tarlabaşı and to support the rights of women and children that have been disadvantaged or discriminated against. They have been experiencing an arbitrary and unpredictable process that began with hate speech and targeting news from the media, and was followed up by administrative and legal sanctions against them.
Operating in the Tarlabaşı district of Istanbul, the Tarlabaşı Community Center was founded in September of 2006. It was initially a pilot project within the Istanbul Bilgi University Center for Migration Research. Tarlabaşı Community Support Association was founded in June of 2007 to sustain the work.
With the aims of empowering district residents that have been outcast from social life and that struggle with poverty and deprivation caused by migration, supporting their access to their rights, and lessening the prejudice against Tarlabaşı, the Center runs social and psychological support programs for children, youth, and women, and constitutes a rights-based community center model for similar districts.
Tarlabaşı Community Center’s mission includes empowering the residents of Tarlabaşı through its work and making them aware of their rights, providing support and council on psycho-social, legal, and health topics to all district residents with no regards to their citizenship, planning programs that look out for the best interest of children and supporting such work, working against all kinds of discrimination foremost in Tarlabaşı but also everywhere else, and defending rights on this matter.
For 15 years, the Center has worked to defend the rights of all disadvantaged and discriminated children and women, and to establish safe spaces for them to come together in Tarlabaşı.
However, since June of 2021, they have been going through an adverse process that has begun with targeting from the media and followed up by administrative and legal sanctions against them.
In June of 2021, TTM planned a Volunteer Event to address issues regarding LGBTI+ children. After the announcement of the event planned to take place on June 27th 2021 named “How should LGBTI+ students be protected from the grips of families and schools?” on social media, a news story targeting TTM and the experts that would be running the event was published by a journalist. Another news story targeting TTM dated June 25th 2021 was followed up by social media posts from the same journalist. The newspaper and the journalist in question continued their systematic act of targeting until February 9th, 2022. Similar news stories were reshared on different platforms.
Administrative and legal actions were initiated against TTM right after these defaming news stories surfaced. On June 29th, 2021, a two-day inspection of TTM by the Istanbul Provincial Directorate of Civil Society Relations began.
During July 26th and August 20th, 2021, there was another inspection by the Ministry of Interior Affairs Association Auditors. Based on the 4th Lodgment Report prepared by the association auditors, a “detection of absence” lawsuit was filed against TTM on October 15th, 2021, demanding the “detection of the ipso facto dissolution of the association on the grounds that the association mission has become unrealizable per clause 87/1 of the Turkish Civil Code no 4721.” It was claimed that the founding purpose of the Association had become unrealizable because it was tightly knit with the ‘Tarlabaşı Community Center’ established within the framework of Istanbul Bilgi University’s project, that the existence of the Center in question and the purpose of the Association constitute a unity, and that the center could no longer be operating because the project in question had ended in September of 2007. The first hearing of the trial took place at the 8th Court of Peace of Istanbul on April 14th, 2022.
Incorporating directly the Points of Criticism headings from the association auditors’ 2nd Lodgment Report in to its indictment dated February 7th, 2022, The Intellectual and Property Rights Investigation Bureau of the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded the dissolution of the association and as a precaution, the retention of operations by the association until the verdict of its dissolution has been reached. The lawsuit claimed that the Association had become illegal and immoral. Among the allegations was that the Association influenced the sexual identity of children through normalizing the individuals known in the community as LGBTI.
The 18th Civil Court of First Instance accepted the indictment and ruled for the retention of activities by the Association as a precaution per clause 90 of the Turkish Penal Code. This verdict was revoked on April 6th, 2022, after an appeal made by the association. However, the Ministry of Interior filed an appeal. On July 6, 2022, it was decided to reject the appeal application made by the ministry out of procedure.
The first hearing of the trial to rule on the dissolution of the Association took place on May 18th, 2022. The journalist from the pro-government Milat Newspaper who had targeted the association also attended the hearing, and along with his company threatened other audience members by saying, “The three of us can take you all.”
The Ministry of Family and Social Services and the Ministry of Interior Affairs requested to become party in the trial. The Court decided to ask the prosecution and the Association Auditors whether or not there was any investigation file other than the prosecution files that were the subject of the trial. Deciding to evaluate the request of the ministries to become party to the trial in between sessions, the Court ruled to procure an expert’s report on association regulations.
The second hearing was held on November 2, 2022. The court decided to wait for the preparation of the expert report that will evaluate the activities of the association within the scope of defense and Supreme Court case law.
In the third hearing on February 21, 2023, it was announced that an expert report was included in the file. The lawyers requested time to make a statement against the expert report. Accepting the request, the court left the case to May 22, 2023.
The third hearing of the "detection of absence" case was held on May 9, 2023, at the 8th Civil Court of Peace in Istanbul. The second hearing was held on September 29, 2022, and the intervention request of the Ministry of Family and Social Services was accepted. In the third hearing, the attorney of the plaintiff's attorney objected to the expert report. The lawyer of the Ministry of Family and Social Services also objected to the expert report and said that they agreed with the statements of the plaintiff's attorney. The expert's report states:
"The aim of the Tarlabaşı Community Center is to facilitate the lives of those living in poverty in Tarlabaşı, and primarily women and children, and to support them against turning to violence. Considering the article (as long as the problems of children, women and young people continue), it is clear that the purpose of the association will continue. It is obvious that there was no spontaneous termination in the case in question."
The court rejected the request of TTM lawyers to wait for the decision of the Istanbul 18th Civil Court of First Instance. The next hearing is on October 5, 2023.
A decision was expected in the hearing of the case regarding the dissolution of the association on May 22, 2023, but no decision was made again, the court requested a new expert report. The next hearing was held on October 9, 2023. The police did not allow TTM volunteers who wanted to make a statement before the hearing, stating that it was "a prohibited decision of the Kağıthane District Governorate". The hearing was postponed to January 8, 2024, with the court's request for an additional report.
At the next hearing of the case, additional report was arrived to the court. The court decided to ask the fates of the ongoing investigation files against the association and adjourned the case to 6 May 2024. At the exit of the hearing, a group, including former AKP deputy Metin Külünk, attacked the members and volunteers of the association. One person from the group insulted the police officer who tried to remove them and continued his verbal harassment against TTM members. The AKP group was removed from the court by police officers and security guards in the courthouse.