By LEFTERIS PITARAKIS
ISTANBUL (AP) — Ten Turkish human rights activists who were detained by police while attending a training workshop appeared before a court in Istanbul on Monday to face possible charges or be released from custody.
The activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, were detained earlier this month at a hotel on Buyukada island off Istanbul and questioned by anti-terrorism police.
Amnesty said the group was being investigated for membership in an armed terrorist organization. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made vague accusations against the 10, saying they were holding a meeting that had the “nature of a continuation” of last year’s failed coup attempt.
Amnesty has called for their release and said their case is a test for Turkey’s judiciary.
“Turkey will be disgraced in the eyes of world if these human rights defenders are put in prison for defending human rights,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s Turkey researcher, told a group of reporters outside the courthouse.
Other than Amnesty, the activists are members of the Women’s coalition, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the Human Rights’ Agenda Association, the Association to Monitor Equal Rights and the Rights Initiative. Their two trainers — a German and a Swede — were also detained.
Turkey has blamed the July 15, 2016, failed coup on followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and has branded his movement a terror organization.
The country declared a state of emergency days after the coup and launched a massive crackdown, arresting about 50,000 people and dismissing more than 100,000 from government jobs. The crackdown initially focused on people with suspected ties to the alleged coup plotters, but has been extended to include politicians, journalists and activists.
Eser is the second top Amnesty International official in Turkey to face prosecution. Last month, Amnesty’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was arrested for alleged links to Gulen’s movement.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Amnesty International in Turkey and in fact the whole of the Human Rights movement here in Turkey faces an existential threat,” Gardner said.
In a related development, 19 people — including former soldiers — went on trial in Istanbul, for raiding the headquarters of Dogan media holding on the night of the failed attempt in a bid to take over two of its television stations and Hurriyet newspaper.
They face life terms in prison if found guilty of charges of trying to overthrow the state and membership in a terror group.
Also Monday, a group of lawyers gathered at a courthouse in Istanbul to protest the detention of a colleague, Mustafa Yaman, on alleged links to Gulen.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.