Human Rights Groups New Target in Turkey’s Crackdown

Amnesty International Belgium's Director Philippe Hensmans poses in a cage in front of the Turkish embassy in Brussels to protest against the detention of his Turkish counterpart Idil Eser
Amnesty International Belgium’s director, Philippe Hensmans, poses in a cage in front of the Turkish Embassy in Brussels to protest the detention of his Turkish counterpart Idil Eser, Brussels, Belgium, July 10, 2017. (photo by REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

 

21 July 2017 |Ali Bayramoglu | Al-Monitor

“The Turkish government’s massive crackdown since last year’s attempted coup has targeted not only the putschists, but also the media, Kurdish politicians, as well as leftist, liberal and conservative oppositionists. The latest developments in this crackdown show that the regime is proceeding fast to the lowest point on its path to autocracy.

One particularly alarming omen is the arrest of six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, following a July 5 police raid on a gathering of civic activists on an Istanbul island. The move indicates that Ankara’s suppression campaign has reached a new phase, turning to local and international human rights groups and civic society.

For Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty, the arrests represented a watershed. “This is a moment of truth for Turkey and for the international community.

Leaders around the world must stop biting their tongues and acting as if they can continue business as usual,” he said, slamming the arrests as a “politically motivated persecution that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey.”

The events have already had a chilling effect on civic society. The Citizens Assembly, for instance, postponed a “summer school” with Turkish and Armenian participants in Turkey, while the Berghof Foundation canceled a roundtable on the Kurdish problem.

The arrest of the six activists demonstrates how arbitrariness is increasingly permeating the justice system in Turkey. After the police raid on the meeting, a journalist asked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to comment on the calls for the release of the activists during a press conference at the G-20 summit in Germany.

Erdogan claimed the purpose of the gathering was to plan subversive activities similar to the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, which Ankara blames on the Fethullah Gulen religious community. “Upon [a tipoff] received by intelligence services, the police carried out the raid and detained those individuals.

They [the activists] are calling for what [the putschists] called. And by asking me this question, you, too, are supporting this call,” he said, adding that it was up to the judiciary to decide the fate of the detainees.

Obviously, Erdogan had already made his decision. While passing judgment, proclaiming it to the world and even accusing the journalist who posed the question, he mentioned not the judiciary but the intelligence, which raises myriad questions over the rule of law. How Erdogan’s statement affected the court’s subsequent decision to incarcerate the activists is another serious question.

Now, a brief account of the events that led to the activists’ imprisonment. Back in April, about 30 activists from various associations gathered in the Mediterranean city of Antalya to discuss the human rights violations and political situation in Turkey as part of an initiative by the Human Rights Joint Platform, which brings together a number of leading advocacy groups, including Amnesty International’s Turkey branch.

Given the prevailing climate in Turkey, they opined that rights activists could also face prosecution, which would increase the importance of communication between fellow groups and the security of their websites and digital data. They decided to organize a special meeting on the issue. So that was the meeting the police raided. German national Peter Steudtner and Swedish national Ali Gharavi were present as consultants.

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