Amnesty International said on Tuesday that jailing of its local director and five other activists was “an appalling affront to justice” and a crushing blow for human rights in Turkey, describing it as a “new low in post-coup crackdown.
Amnesty International Turkey’s Director, Idil Eser, was detained alongside nine others on 5 July during a routine workshop, on grounds of “committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.” Four of the detainees have been released on bail but are still facing investigation, while the rest of them, including Eser, remain in custody.
“Turkish prosecutors have had 12 days to establish the obvious: that these activists are innocent. The decision to proceed shows that truth and justice have become total strangers 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 Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty.
On 6 June, Turkish authorities detained Amnesty’s local board chairman, Taner Kilic, along with 22 other lawyers. He was charged three days later with “membership of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization.” He is still in custody. Former imam and political activist currently living in exile in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, has repeatedly condemned the last year’s coup attempt and denied any involvement, but Ankara stands by its accusations.
“Leaders around the world must stop biting their tongues and acting as if they can continue business as usual,” Shetty warned.
Among the detainees are German activist Peter Steudtner and his Swedish colleague Ali Gharavi, but so far European governments have been relatively quiet about the latest of Turkey’s crackdown. Steudner’s friends, family members and colleagues urged Turkey to release him immediately, while Hubertus Heil, secretary-general of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, part of the governing coalition, told Reuters that the detention of human rights activists and journalists was intolerable. “The European Union and the German government will put pressure on the Turkish government,” he said.
Later on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also condemned Turkey’s latest detention, describing the case as another example of “innocent people being caught up in the wheels of the justice system.” She said Steudner’s arrest was absolutely unjustified. “We declare our solidarity with him and all the others arrested … the German government will do all it can, on all levels, to secure his release,” Merkel added.
Turkey’s ties with Germany have increasingly deteriorated in the recent months, starting with a diplomatic row with several European countries, including Germany, over conditions for Turkish officials’ campaigning in diaspora ahead of referendum on constitutional changes. The rift widened after Turkey’s arrest of journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt newspaper and a Turkish-German dual national. Yucel has been jailed since February and charged with “spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting the public to violence.” He denies the charges. If found guilty, Yucel faces up to 10 years in prison.
It has been more than a year since the attempted coup which was supposed to oust ruling President Recep Tayip Erdogan. Since then, Turkey has been under state of emergency which was extended on Monday for another three months. So far, 150.000 people have been dismissed or suspended from jobs in public service and private sector, while 50.000 people have been jailed. The government also closed opposition media outlets and arrested around 160 journalist, thus reaching the top of the infamous list of world’s biggest jailers of journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Also, a new Turkish school curriculum, announced on Tuesday, excludes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, a move which opposition characterized as “subverting the republic’s secular foundations.”
(Reuters contributed to this report)