A Turkish court has detained Amnesty International’s director in Turkey and five other rights activists pending trial over allegations of links to Kurdish militia and the alleged plotter of last year’s attempted coup.
On Tuesday, the Istanbul court decided to continue the detention of Amnesty’s Turkey director Idil Eser along with five other activists, including a German national identified as Peter Steudtner.
The court, however, decided to release four other activists pending the outcome of a trial, but barred them from traveling abroad, while they will also have to report regularly to the police.
The ten activists were arrested on July 5 during a police raid on a hotel on the island of Buyukada, an island south of Istanbul, where they attended a workshop on digital security and information management.
Two of the arrested activists were foreign trainers of the digital information workshop, a German and a Swedish national. The remaining eight were Turkish human rights defenders, including Ilknur Ustun of the Women’s Coalition and Veli Acu of the Human Rights Agenda Association.
Last month, Turkey also arrested Amnesty International’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic along with 22 other lawyers in the western city of Izmir on accusation of collaborating with coup plotters.
The Amnesty International called the Tuesday court ruling as a “crushing blow for rights in Turkey.”
“This is not a legitimate investigation, this is a politically motivated witch-hunt that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“Today we have learnt that standing up for human rights has become a crime in Turkey. This is a moment of truth, for Turkey and for the international community,” he added.
Shetty also urged the world countries to put pressure on Turkey to release the activists, noting, “leaders around the world must stop biting their tongues and acting as if they continue business as usual.”
According to Turkish media reports, prosecutors requested the arrests based on what they presented as evidence of the activists’ communications with suspects linked to Kurdish and left-wing militants as well as US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 20116.
Gulen used to be Erdogan’s mentor and ally before disagreements arose between them.
Earlier in July, Erdogan had rejected the label “activists” for the 10, saying the group was involved in a meeting that had the “nature of a continuation” of the coup attempt.
Turkey’s main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP) slammed the court ruling as a “shame for Turkey” and expressed doubt over the prospect of a fair trial for the activists.
“In Turkey, the judiciary is far away from being objective and independent,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a former human rights lawyer and legislator from the CHP.
“It is impossible to speak of fair hearings in an environment where there is no objective and independent judiciary.”
On July 9, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu completed a 450-kilometer mass rally from Ankara to Istanbul, dubbed “March for Justice,” to condemn Erdogan’s crackdown and the alleged government interference in the judiciary.
More than 40,000 people have been arrested as part of Turkey’s crackdown on suspected plotters and sympathizers of the coup attempt. A further 100,000 people have been discharged from jobs over the same accusations.
Amnesty International activists protest outside Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 15, 2017, urging the US administration to end its silence on the imprisonment of Taner Kilic, the head of Amnesty International in Turkey. (AP photo)
On Tuesday, Berlin slammed the detention of the six activists, including of German national Steudtner, as “unjustified.”
“We stand in solidarity with Peter Steudtner whose detention in Turkey is unjustified and will advocate for him on all levels,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.
The German Foreign Ministry also condemned the Istanbul court ruling in a separate statement, calling for their “quick release from custody.”
“Linking a fighter and spokesman for human rights and democracy like Peter Steudtner to supporters of terrorists is wrong,” the statement said.
Relations between Germany, home to three million ethnic Turks, and Turkey have deteriorated since last year’s coup, with Berlin voicing grave concerns over mass arrests, dismissal of alleged coup plotters and a wide range of rights violations.
The tensions became more intense after Turkey imprisoned Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist with the newspaper Die Welt, Turkey on terror charges earlier this year.
Earlier this month, European Parliament advised the European Union to freeze accession talks with Turkey amid growing concerns over declining human rights, media freedoms and rule of law issues in the country.