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Turkey has arrested Amnesty International’s local director

Published: July 14, 2017
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IT WAS the sort of intervention on behalf of a persecuted opposition politician that Amnesty International carries out hundreds of times a year. In 1998, after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the mayor of Istanbul, was jailed for a speech in which he read out a religiously themed poem, the human-rights group termed him a “prisoner of conscience” and wrote to the government demanding his release. Nineteen years later, Mr Erdogan, now Turkey’s president, presides over an increasingly authoritarian regime. And his police force has arrested Amnesty International’s own staff along with other human-rights activists. So it was to Mr Erdogan that the group found itself writing last week to demand the release of detainees. He shows little sign of softening.

More than 50,000 people have been jailed in the purges that followed the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15th last year. But the latest arrests nevertheless shocked human-rights advocates, if only because their colleagues were the targets. On July 5th Turkish police detained ten human-rights activists attending a cyber-security training session, on suspicion of membership in an “armed terrorist organisation”. Those arrested include Idil Eser, the director of Amnesty International’s Turkish branch, and two foreign trainers. A month earlier, the chairman of the branch’s board, Taner Kilic, had been jailed on similar accusations.

Other rights organisations and a few politicians—including Kati Piri, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, and Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden—have called for the activists to be freed immediately. But on July 11th Turkish authorities extended the ten activists’ detention for another week. They will observe this weekend’s national commemoration of the anniversary of the failed coup from jail.

Turkey’s government blames the military rebellion on the Gulen Movement, a secretive Islamic sect, claiming that its crackdown is aimed at rooting out the movement’s members and protecting democracy. In fact, it has also targeted the political opposition, the independent judiciary and the free press. More than 4,000 judges and lawyers have been dismissed and over 120 journalists are in prison, more than in any other country in the world.

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