Middle East

Turkish court jails 6 human rights activists pending trial

A court in Istanbul ordered six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, formally arrested Tuesday pending a trial over accusations that they aided an armed terror group, adding to concerns over rights and freedoms in the country.

Four others activists were released from custody pending the outcome of a trial. They have been barred from traveling abroad and have to report regularly to police.

The group was detained earlier this month in a police raid at a hotel on Buyukada island where they were attending a training workshop on digital security.

They are suspected of “committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

Amnesty International described the court decision 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.

Shetty said: “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.”

It is not clear which terror organization they are suspected helping but Turkish media reports said prosecutors, requesting the arrests, presented as evidence records of their communications with suspects linked to Kurdish and left-wing militants as well as the movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating last year’s failed coup attempt. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month made vague accusations, saying the group was involved in a meeting that had the “nature of a continuation” of the coup attempt.

Those ordered jailed include Amnesty’s Turkey director, Idil Eser, and activists from the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the Human Rights’ Agenda Association. Their two trainers, a German and a Swede, were also arrested.

Turkey declared a state of emergency days after the coup and launched a massive crackdown, arresting about 50,000 people and dismissing more than 110,000 workers from government jobs. The crackdown initially focused on people suspected of ties to the alleged coup plotters, but has been extended to include politicians, journalists and activists.

Eser is the second top Amnesty International official in Turkey to be arrested. Last month, Amnesty’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was arrested for alleged links to Gulen’s movement.

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