Human rights organization Amnesty International on Thursday said Turkish police had detained its Turkey director and other activists and called for their immediate release.
Idil Eser, director of Amnesty International Turkey, was detained on Wednesday along with activists and trainers during a “digital security and information management workshop” on Buyukada, an island south of Istanbul, Amnesty said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from the police or indication of what the rights activists have been accused of.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, said they were accused of membership in a terror group. “[The authorities] are authorized to detain them for 7 days,” he told AFP. “All the people who were taking part in this workshop face the accusation of being members of an armed terrorist organization. Which terrorist organization? No one knows.”
He said 10 people had been detained in total: eight human rights defenders and two foreign trainers—a German and a Swedish national and that they were subsequently taken to various police stations.
The detentions come less than a month after Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was remanded in custody on what the group described as “baseless charges” of links to the alleged mastermind of the July 15 failed coup Fethullah Gulen. “We are profoundly disturbed and outraged that some of Turkey’s leading human rights defenders, including the Director of Amnesty International Turkey, should have been detained so blatantly without cause,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. He said they must be “immediately and unconditionally released.”
Human Rights Watch said the action “is a repressive new low for the Turkish state,” urging Turkish authorities to provide a public explanation of why it is investigating them as members of a terror group.
In Ankara, E.U. Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn said he raised the issue with government officials but “I didn’t get for the moment a sufficient answer.” He said the detentions “created some irritations” and assured: “We will certainly follow up.”
Turkey remains under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the July 15, 2016 failed coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gulen denies any involvement. Critics say that the emergency has been used to round up not just the alleged plotters, but anyone who dares to oppose the president.
Turkish officials insist that all actions are carried out within the framework of the law.
Gardner said the detainees were “in good spirits.”
“They have enough food and enough to drink,” he said. “The whole basis of this detention is fraudulent. They were taking part in a routine workshop,” he added. “It’s just an attempt to harass and detain and look up human rights defenders.”