US ‘deeply concerned’ by detention of human rights defenders in Turkey

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Heather Nauert (L) and İdil Eser

US Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert has said the United States is deeply concerned by the detention of human rights defenders from Amnesty International and other organizations in Turkey.

Emphasizing the significance of freedom of expression for democracy and respect for individual rights, Nauert in a press statement issued on Thursday asked Turkey to comply with international commitments.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the July 5 detention of prominent human rights defenders from Amnesty International Turkey and other respected institutions. As with past arrests of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, academics and activists, we underscore the importance of respecting due process and individual rights, as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution and consistent with Turkey’s own international commitments. As we have expressed on numerous occasions, persistent curbs on freedom of expression erode the foundations of democratic society. More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times,” said Nauert.

Eight human rights activists were detained during a digital security and information management workshop organized by Amnesty International (AI) in İstanbul on Wednesday.
Bahri Belen, the lawyer for some of the detained activists, said the prosecutor decided on a seven-day detention period for the activists and that the accusations against them were still not known.

However, the Human Rights Association (İHD) said the activists, who were taken to different police stations, are being accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization.

Turkish police, acting on an anonymous tip, raided a hotel on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands off İstanbul, and detained İdil Eser from Amnesty International (AI), İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition, lawyer Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association, lawyer Nalan Erkem from the Citizens Assembly, Nejat Taştan from the Equal Rights Watch Association, Özlem Dalkıran from the Citizens’ Assembly, lawyer Şeyhmuz Özbekli and Veli Acu from the Human Rights Agenda Association.

Two foreign trainers — a German and a Swedish national — as well as the hotel owner, who was later released, were also detained.

AI Secretary-General Salil Shetty in a statement on Wednesday harshly criticized the detention of AI Turkey Director Eser along with the seven other human rights activists, calling it “a grotesque abuse of power.”

Shetty, who expressed strong concern over the detention of the activists, said: “We are profoundly disturbed and outraged that some of Turkey’s leading human rights defenders, including the Director of Amnesty International Turkey, should have been detained so blatantly without cause.”

Taner Kılıç, a lawyer and chairman of AI’s Turkey’s board, was arrested on June 9, accused of links to the alleged mastermind of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, Fethullah Gülen, who has denied any involvement.

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