Amnesty International staffers in Turkey were attending a routine workshop on an island near Istanbul on Wednesday when they were detained by police, the organization said Thursday.
The 10 detainees, including country director Idil Eser and two non-Turkish trainers, were denied access to lawyers for more than 24 hours and weren’t allowed to contact family members, according to a statement from Amnesty. They later discovered that they were being investigated for potential membership in a terrorist organization, a byproduct of the government-led crackdown on civil society organizations throughout the country.
“The absurdity of these accusations against Idil Eser and the nine others cannot disguise the very grave nature of this attack on some of the most prominent civil society organizations in Turkey,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general, said Thursday. “If anyone was still in doubt of the endgame of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown, they should not be now. There is to be no civil society, no criticism and no accountability in [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s Turkey.”
Their detention comes less than a month after Amnesty’s Turkey chair, Taner Kılıç, was jailed. He hasn’t been released.
The United States is “deeply concerned,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday in a statement.
“As with past arrests of prominent human rights defenders, journalists, academics, and activists, we underscore the importance of and individual rights, as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution, and consistent with Turkey’s own international commitments,” she said. “More voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times.”
Turkey has experienced a major deterioration of human rights in the past year, following a failed coup attempt.
Erdogan’s government began arresting opposition politicians and Kurdish activists en masse. It also shut down more than 100 media outlets and fired more than 150,000 civil servants ― including Veli Saçılık, a sociologist and activist who was also baselessly accused of belonging to a terrorist organization.