A court in Istanbul on Tuesday ordered the arrest of six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, pending a trial over accusations that they aided “terror groups.”
The other arrested activists include members of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the Human Rights’ Agenda Association. Their two technological trainers, a German and a Swede, were also arrested.
Eser was one of a group of activists detained on July 5 while attending a digital security and information management workshop on Buyukada, an island south of Istanbul.
Four other activists were released from custody, but have been barred from traveling abroad and have to report regularly to police pending the outcome of the trial.
Prosecutors accused them of “committing a crime in the name of a terror organization without being a member.” Amnesty International, however, described the court decision as “a politically motivated witch-hunt.”
“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," Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil 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.”
Following a failed coup attempt last year, Turkey declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on people suspected of links to United States-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the attempted power grab.
More than 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 110,000 workers from government jobs have been dismissed.
Amnesty International said the meeting on Buyukada had been a routine workshop and that 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,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher, told AFP.
It is not clear which “terror organizations” the activists are suspected of 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 Gülen’s movement.