Turkish police have detained 12 people including the local director of Amnesty International and other rights activists at a meeting on an island near Istanbul, media said on Thursday, in a move the rights group said was a “grotesque abuse of power”.
The detentions came less than a month after a court jailed pending trial the chairman of Amnesty’s Turkey branch, Taner Kilic, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” in a crackdown after an attempted coup in July 2016.
Amnesty Turkey Director Idil Eser and the others were taken to a police station on Wednesday evening after gathering at a hotel on Buyukada, just south of Turkey‘s largest city, Hurriyet newspaper said. It was not clear why they were being held.
Amnesty called for the group’s release, saying it was “profoundly disturbed and outraged” at the detentions during a digital security and information management workshop.
Police were not available to comment. Amnesty said lawyers were told they would be given information at 2:30pm (1130 GMT).
Among those detained with Eser were seven human rights defenders, two foreign trainers – a German and a Swedish national – as well as the hotel owner, Amnesty’s statement said.
“This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty.
Since the failed putsch, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.
The purge has also led to the closure of some 130 media outlets and jailing of 150 journalists and has worried Turkey‘s Western allies and rights groups, who say President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, visiting Turkey to discuss Turkey‘s accession progress, said the detentions would form part of his discussions in Ankara.
“The arrest of people, for instance last night’s arrests, we have to address these issues in friendship and mutual understanding. That’s why we are here,” he told reporters.
More than 240 people were killed in the coup attempt, and the government has said the security measures are necessary because of the gravity of the threats facing Turkey.
Amnesty Turkey‘s chairman was detained in early June with 22 other lawyers over alleged links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup.