A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered that six human rights activists including Amnesty International’s Turkey director remain in custody for allegedly aiding a “terror” group, in a case the rights watchdog called a “travesty of justice.”
Idil Eser, head of Amnesty in Turkey, was detained on July 5 with seven activists and two foreign trainers during a digital security and information management workshop on an island south of Istanbul. “Six were remanded in custody and four released on judicial control,” Amnesty’s Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner told AFP.
Prosecutors accuse them of “committing a crime in the name of a terror organization without being a member,” he said. Their detention sparked international alarm and amplified fears of declining freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The ruling came a day after the activists, who have not yet been formally charged, gave statements to prosecutors at an Istanbul court for the first time since their detention.
Eight of the 10 initially detained are Turkish rights activists, including Ilknur Ustun of the Women’s Coalition and Veli Acu of the Human Rights Agenda Association. The other two are a German and a Swede who were leading the digital information workshop and they remain in pre-trial detention.
Berlin slammed as “unjustified” the detention of the German national. “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 issued a separate statement condemning the detention of the six activists, 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,” a ministry spokeswoman said in a statement. Sweden’s foreign ministry was “concerned by the detention of a Swedish national,” a spokesman told AFP, adding: “We are looking into the accusations.”
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,” Gardner said. “This decision cannot be allowed to stand.”
Turkey’s leader said this month the activists were detained on a tip-off they were working against the government, comparing them to those involved in a failed coup in July last year. Gardner earlier said the meeting had been a “routine” workshop and there was nothing suspicious about it.
“What is absolutely crystal clear, 100 percent 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.
Amnesty International called on world leaders to pressure Turkey into releasing the activists, saying the country was turning “increasingly rogue.”
John Dalhuisen, Europe chief for the global human rights watchdog, told AFP in London that the accusations against the activists including Amnesty’s Turkey director were “palpably absurd.”
“The Turkish prosecutor knows it, the judges know it, the Turkish government knows it and foreign governments know it as well,” he said. “The international community needs to be engaging with Turkey and articulating this relationship with Turkey as what it is: a relationship with an increasingly rogue and unreliable partner,” he said.
Turkish authorities have launched a massive crackdown on people suspected of links to a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who denies Ankara’s accusations of masterminding the attempted power grab.
Amnesty International’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic was also arrested last month, accused of links to Gulen. More than 50,000 people have been jailed and over 100,000 including judges, teachers, police and other state servants have been dismissed.
Gardner said before the court ruling that country director 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.