06:03, July 18 340 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-18 06:03:03
Turkey holds six rights activists on charges of aiding terror group

A Turkish court has ordered six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, to remain in custody for aiding a terror group in a case the organisation called a “travesty of justice”.

Idil Eser, Amnesty’s Turkey director, was detained on 5 July along with seven other activists and two foreign trainers during a digital security and information management workshop on Buyukada, an island south of Istanbul.

“Six were remanded in custody and four released on judicial control,” Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, Andrew Gardner, told Agence France-Presse.

Prosecutors accuse them of “committing a crime in the name of a terror organisation without being a member,” he said.

“Turkish prosecutors have had 12 days to establish the obvious: that these 10 activists are innocent. The decision to proceed shows that truth and justice have become total strangers in Turkey,” said Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty.

“This is not a legitimate investigation, this is a politically motivated witch-hunt that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey.”

Their detention sparked international alarm and amplified fears of declining freedom of expression under Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The ruling came a day after the activists, who have not yet been tried or formally charged, gave statements to prosecutors for the first time since their detention.

Eight of those detained were Turkish rights activists, including Ilknur Ustün of the Women’s Coalition and Veli Acu of the Human Rights Agenda Association. Four have now been released, Gardner said.

Two foreigners – a German and a Swedish national who were leading the digital information workshop – remain in pre-trial detention.

Gardner said the court verdict was a “shocking travesty of justice”.

“It is politically motivated targeting not just of these six human rights defenders who have been remanded in pre-trial prison custody, but it is taking aim at Turkey’s entire human rights movement,” he told AFP.

“What we’ve learnt today is that defending human rights has become a crime in Turkey. After this decision none of us who defend human rights in Turkey, whether it is Amnesty International or other organisations, are safe in this country. This decision cannot be allowed to stand.”

Erdoğan said this month that the activists had been detained on a tip-off they were working against the government, comparing them to those involved in a failed putsch in July last year.

Gardner earlier said the meeting on Buyukada had been a “routine” workshop and there was nothing suspicious about it.

“What is absolutely crystal clear, 100% clear, is this was a routine human rights workshop – the sort of workshop that happens all over Turkey, in fact the sort of workshop that happens all over the world,” he said.

Turkish authorities have launched a massive crackdown following the coup on people suspected of links to a movement led by the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, blamed by Ankara for the attempted power grab.

Last month Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kiliç, was also arrested, accused of links to Gülen. The preacher denies allegations he was behind the coup attempt.

More than 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 100,000 –including judges, teachers, police and other state servants – have been dismissed.

Gardner said before the court ruling that Eser remained in good spirits. “She sent messages that as soon as she is released she wants to carry on from where she left off,” he said.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report