Arrest of rights activists ‘chills’ Turkey’s civil society

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Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, pictured here, was one of the 10 people detained as part of a terrorism probe. Posted on July 10, 2017. (photo by Twitter/@englishpen)


16 July 2017 |Ayla Jean Yackley | Al-Monitor

“The detention of human rights activists and academics ahead of the anniversary of the failed July 15, 2016, military coup in Turkey has rattled a once-vibrant civil society, fearful the government is broadening its yearlong clampdown that has already ensnared tens of thousands of people.

On July 5, police raided a hotel on an island off the Istanbul coast where leading rights groups had gathered for a training seminar. Ten people, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, were detained in a terrorism probe.

Then on July 10, police arrested 42 university staff members, including Koray Caliskan, a former adviser to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). They are seeking another 30 academics suspected of links to the bungled coup.  Caliskan was sent to house arrest late on Friday, media reported.

“We have crossed a new threshold,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s researcher on Turkey. “Under the post-coup attempt crackdown, there has been a huge number of assaults on civil society, critical journalists and the political opposition. But this is a direct attack on the backbone of human rights.”

The detentions come as the nation commemorates the first anniversary of the coup attempt, when a faction of the army sought to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a spasm of violence that killed more than 240 people.

Since then, 50,000 people have been jailed and another 100,000 teachers, judges, police officers and others have been fired from state jobs. A state of emergency that has allowed Erdogan to effectively rule by decree is set to be extended again when it expires next week.

Erdogan has defended the measures as essential to weed out putschists and their sympathizers and restore democratic order. The government blames the coup on followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States.

But some observers say the dragnet has spread well beyond those responsible for the insurrection to include the very people tasked with monitoring allegations of official wrongdoing.

“We see a connection in the timing of the detentions with the anniversary. It is a show of force by the government,” said Hakan Ataman, the co-director of the Citizens’ Assembly, who saw two of its members, Ozlem Dalkiran and Nalan Erkem, arrested on the island.

“Rights groups have unwaveringly called for the perpetrators of the coup to face justice. But they also criticize the way the investigation is occurring — trampling on the law and disregarding human rights.”

As many as 1,400 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those that protect children’s rights and assist battered women, have been shuttered since July 2016. About 150 journalists are in jail, as are 12 opposition lawmakers. In June, a court arrested Taner Kilic, Amnesty’s local chairman, on charges he is affiliated with the Gulen movement.

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