Eight of Turkey's best-known human rights defenders were arrested during a digital security and information management workshop on one of Istanbul's islands, Buyukada, on July 5.
Two trainers were also arrested along with the rights defenders. Police also briefly detained the owner of the hotel where the event was held. Among those arrested is the director of Amnesty International Turkey, Idil Eser.
Independent media outlet Bianet reported that police in plainclothes raided the workshop, detained the participants, and confiscated electronic equipment including computers and mobile phones. The eight Turkish citizens will be held for seven days pre-trial.
Less than a month ago Amnesty International's Turkey chair, Taner Kilic was also remanded in prison. Amnesty International released a statement on July 6:
(Idil Eser's) incommunicado detention and that of the other human rights defenders attending a routine training event, is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country. Idil Eser and those detained with her, must be immediately and unconditionally released.
The reaction at home and abroad has been immediate, with Twitter supporters clamoring for the release of the eight advocates, all of whom are experts in their field, using the hashtags #İnsanHaklarıSavunucularınaDokunma and #freehumanrightsdefenders.
8 Turkey human rights defenders detained on eve of @JHahnEU Ankara visit. Release them now, drop investigation @omerrcelik @bybekirbozdag pic.twitter.com/QzKXLSolqp
— Emma Sinclair-Webb (@esinclairwebb) July 5, 2017
Locations of all 10 detainees now known – they are in 5 different places. Now release them all. #insanHaklarıSavunucularınaDokunma
— Andrew Gardner (@andrewegardner) July 6, 2017
avukatlara gazetecilere vekillere bilgi verilmiyor. sanırsın çok gizli çok tehlikeli 1örgüt çökerttiler #İnsanHaklarıSavunucularınaDokunma!.
— gulseren adakli (@gulserendipity) July 5, 2017
No information is given to lawyers, journalists, and attorneys. They act as if they just cracked down on some very serious, and very dangerous organization.
The pro-government news agency Ahaber was quick to denounce the rights defenders as “agents”, calling to mind a similar incident that took place before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey:
15 TEMMUZ TOPLANTISINI AKILLARA GETİRDİ Büyükada'da bir otelde, 15 Temmuz darbe girişiminin yapıldığı gün giriş yapan, çoğunluğu yabancı 17 kişilik grup, 2 gün boyunca toplantı yapmıştı. Toplantıda CIA'ya çalışan ABD'li profesör Henri Barkey'in de bulunması dikkat çekmişti.
ON THE HUNT FOR AGENTS
A group of 17 people, consisting mostly of foreigners, checked in at a hotel in Buyukada on July 15. They held meetings for two days. One of the participants who attracted the most attention was a CIA employee, American professor Henry Barkey.
Ahaber referred to the training event as “reminiscent of a meeting ahead of July 15,” but did not offer any details about the who attended the supposed meeting last year.
Turkey's AKP (Justice and Development Party) leadership is routinely accused of using last year's coup attempt as a justification for purging the government of non-loyalists and dissolving what remains of civil society and independent media in the country.
The country remains in a condition of “emergency rule” that grants broad powers to security services.
Responding to the story in Abaher, one of Turkey's best-known lawyers tweeted:
Bu ülkede her an herkes terörist ilan edilebilir. Hayatı yaşamı savunmakla geçmiş olanlar bile #İnsanHaklariSavunucularınaDokunma
— Kerem ALTIPARMAK (@KeremALTIPARMAK) July 5, 2017
In this country, anyone can be announced being a terrorist at any time. Even those who have those have only protected the right to life and living.
Haberde adı geçen insanlar hayatlarını insan haklarına vakfetmiş kişiler. Gün gelir bu aşağılık haberleri yapanların haklarını da savunurlar https://t.co/UF1k6BRX98
— Kerem ALTIPARMAK (@KeremALTIPARMAK) July 6, 2017
The people mentioned in this news story are people who have dedicated their lives to human rights. A day will come when they will stand for the rights of those behind these vile news stories.
Turkish pro govt media smears detained human rights defenders as “agents” – a lie we have seen so many times before https://t.co/120mEQaJ5j
— Emma Sinclair-Webb (@esinclairwebb) July 6, 2017
The detentions occurred on the eve of EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn's July 6 visit to Ankara to discuss Turkey's troubled accession bid, after the European parliament called for a suspension of negotiations.