Nearly a dozen prominent rights activists in Turkey, including two foreign nationals, are facing up to 15 years in prison over charges of membership in terror groups and aiding them some three months after they were detained in Istanbul.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday that Public Prosecutor’s Office in Istanbul had completed its investigation into nine Turkish activists, including Taner Kilic, Amnesty International’s Turkey chief, and German Peter Steudtner along with Swede Ali Gharavi.
The suspects were detained at a workshop, organized by Amnesty, on digital security at a hotel in Buyukada of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands on July 5 on charges of taking “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization” in the meeting.
In a 17-page indictment, which was approved by Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Irfan Fidan, prosecutors sought prison terms from seven-and-a-half to 15 years. The indictment was later sent to the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court.
The indictment charged Kilic with armed terror group membership, whereas the rest of the suspects were charged with aiding an armed terror group.
According to the indictment, the suspects allegedly tried to incite violent and chaotic mass public protest rallies when Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, held “Justice” march between June 15 and July 15.
Kilicdaroglu and his fellow party members marched from the capital Ankara to Istanbul, calling for justice for people jailed for their purported connections to a number of terror groups, particularly the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Ankara accuses Gulen of being the mastermind of last year’s mid-July failed coup in the country. The 76-year-old cleric has since strongly rejected the government’s allegations, but Ankara labeled his movement as FETO and designated it as a terrorist organization.
Amnesty, while denouncing the detention of the activists, describes Gharavi as an IT strategy consultant and Steudtner as a “non-violence and well-being trainer.”
The jailing of the 11 activists, including Amnesty’s director in Turkey, Idil Eser, has already sounded international alarm and amplified fears of waning freedom of speech under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Prosecutors charged Kilic with FETO membership, whereas the rest were accused of helping an armed terror group, including FETO.
Since the botched putsch, Ankara has unleashed a massive crackdown across the country, suspending or dismissing more than 150,000 judges, policemen, teachers, and civil servants and arresting nearly 50,000 others.
Many rights groups, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have slammed Ankara’s heavy clampdown on perceived putschists.