By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
ANKARA, Turkey – The government in Turkey detained several human rights activists on July 6 on an island off the country’s coast.
Among those detained were Amnesty International’s Turkey director, Idil Eser. It was left unclear what the individuals are being detained for. But in June, Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was arrested along with 22 lawyers for alleged membership in a “terrorist” group.
The crackdown on human rights supporters comes from last year’s failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan. The government believes that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen staged the coup.
Gulen exiled himself from Turkey in 1999, and has lived in Pennsylvania since. He has denied that he was involved in the coup. Gulen has been outspoken against the Turkish government previously.
Critics argue that President Erdogan is using last July’s failed coup and its subsequent State of Emergency as a means of suppressing dissent against his administration.
At least 50,000 people opposing Erdogan have been arrested under his authority. It has been reported that more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs.
Though it is not yet a member of the European Union, Turkey has been in the process of gaining EU membership for several years. Talks have been ongoing since 2005. In November 2016, the European Parliament voted to suspend discussions with Turkey regarding entry into the EU.
Debate has raged between European Parliament members regarding the best way to strengthen Turkey’s democratic processes. However, the EU has been weary of allowing Turkey into the Union due to the country’s stances on human rights and the death penalty.
The Turkish government’s crackdown expands beyond human rights activists and those who openly oppose President Erdogan. In June 2017, about 44 people were detained during an LGBT Pride march in Istanbul.
Turkish law enforcement used tear gas and plastic bullets against the people who attempted to gather for the parade.
The European High Commission for Human Rights (EHCR) condemned the actions. Commissioner Nils Muiznieks stating that “although a demonstration may annoy or cause offense to persons oppose to the ideas…This cannot serve as an admissible ground for prohibiting a peaceful gathering.” He also called the reports of police violence as “worrying”.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has openly spoken against Erdogan for arrests of the group’s leaders. The group’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, called the detainment “profoundly disturbing.”
“This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country,” he added.
Despite critics, President Erdogan still remains more popular than not in Turkey. In April 2017’s referendum, 51.4% voted to expand the president’s executive power.
Amnesty International continues to call for the release of the detainees.
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