ANKARA (Reuters) - Amnesty International said on Tuesday truth and justice had become “total strangers” in Turkey after its local director and five other activists were remanded in custody, accused of belonging to a terrorist organization.
Idil Eser was among a group of 10 activists - including a German and a Swedish national - detained this month while attending a workshop on digital security near Istanbul.
The state prosecutor asked a court on Monday to extend the detention of the activists pending trial on suspicion of links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for last year’s attempted coup. The court ordered four of the 10 released, the Hurriyet newspaper said.
“Turkish prosecutors have had 12 days to establish the obvious: that these 10 activists are innocent. The decision to proceed shows that truth and justice have become total strangers in Turkey,” said Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty.
“This is not a legitimate investigation, this is a politically motivated witch-hunt that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey.”
In June, authorities detained Amnesty’s local board chairman, Taner Kilic, along with 22 other lawyers, also for suspected links to Gulen, who has condemned the coup attempt and denied any involvement.
Some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the civil service, military and private sector and roughly 50,000 people have been detained since the coup.
Rights groups and some Western allies say Turkey is using the crackdown to quash all dissent. Opposition media outlets have been closed and around 160 journalists have been detained. Turkey is now the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
The government - which on Monday extended the state of emergency brought in after the failed putsch for another three months - says such measures are necessary because of the gravity of the security threat.
Friends, family members and colleagues of the arrested German activist, Peter Steudtner, urged Turkey to release him immediately. They said in a statement that he and his Swedish colleague, Ali Gharavi, had been on an assignment for a development organization.
Hubertus Heil, secretary-general of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, part of the governing coalition, said the detention of human rights activists and journalists was “intolerable”.
“The European Union and the German government will put pressure on the Turkish government,” he said.
Turkey’s ties with Germany are already very strained for a number of reasons, including Turkey’s arrest of journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt newspaper and a Turkish-German dual national.
Yucel has been in detention since February on charges of spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting the public to violence. Yucel, who denies the charges, faces up to 10-1/2 years in prison if convicted.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by Kevin Liffey