The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has broadened its net, arresting those who are speaking out against Turkey’s strikes across the Syrian border, which started on January 20 and have displaced some 16,000 people, driving many into caves for safety.
Earlier this week, a prosecutor ordered the arrest of 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association after the group criticized Turkey’s missile strikes in northern Syria, where Erdogan claims Kurdish “terrorist” fighters pose a threat.
Reuters reports that, “More than 300 people have been detained for social media posts criticizing the campaign since it began,” and that the doctors face charges of spreading “propaganda in support of a terrorist organization, and provoking the public.”
But targeting the critics of the military operation in Syria is just the newest element in Erdogan’s crackdowns, which have only gained steam since the failed coup attempt against him in July 2016. On Thursday, a prosecutor issued an arrest order for 120 military personnel allegedly tied to the coup attempt, which Erdogan blames on his rival, dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Since that thwarted coup, roughly 160 media outlets have been shut down in Turkey, and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the country has been the world’s leading jailer of journalists for two years running. Arrests there continue, with journalists being hacked, locked up, and sentenced on terrorism-related charges.
Human rights activists in Turkey, such as Taner Kilic, chair of Amnesty International’s (AI) Turkey operation, face the same fate.
Kilic was arrested on June 6, 2017, and is accused of having downloaded ByLock, an encrypted messaging app Turkish authorities claim was used by Gulen supporters to organize the coup. Kilic is being charged with being a member of an armed terrorist group and is facing 15 years in prison.
He was to be granted conditional release on Wednesday, when the prosecutor appealed the release and won, leaving Kilic locked up.
AI shared two forensic reports with ThinkProgress in October, showing that Kilic never downloaded ByLock onto his phone, and Emily Walsh, a human rights defenders campaigner with Amnesty International, said on Friday that the police have yet to share their report on what they found on Kilic’s phone.
“It’s outrageous that nearly eight months after his arrest, prosecution has yet to provide a shred of evidence against Taner,” said Walsh, adding that granting the prosecution appeal “is a legal absurdity, in the most generous terms — there’s no reason for it.” She added that the prosecutor offered no justification for appealing Kilic’s release — he was not said to be a flight risk or a threat to national security — the charges against him were simply re-stated.
Walsh said that in his November hearing, Kilic said that he’d been locked up with 21 other men in a cell intended to hold eight — conditions that highlight the fact that, according to the country’s Interior Ministry, over 113,000 people have been detained since July 2016, with over 47,000 being arrested.
“Taner’s case is illustrative of a dangerous and fast-deteriorating situation in Turkey. It’s a repressive state using its courts as a political tool to silence voices, like Taner’s, like other human rights defenders, like lawyers, like journalists, and civil society all across the country,” she said.
Had Kilic, a father of three, been released, he would have been subject to a travel ban, unlike the others who were arrested and released on terrorism charges (which have not yet been dropped).
As it stands, he is able to challenge his detention at the first of every month, but, said Walsh, Wednesday’s ruling has lessened the likelihood of his release before his next hearing, which will be on June 21 — meaning he would have already spent more than a year in prison.
— House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats (@HFACDemocrats) February 1, 2018
Walsh said AI and Kilic’s family hope international pressure condemning his detention will lead to his release before then. The U.S. State Department issued a statement of concern on Kilic’s arrest the day after he was locked up, and there has been support from U.S. lawmakers for his release. But President Donald Trump, who has at times praised Erdogan, has remained largely silent on the situation.
“Congress is extremely concerned and has expressed outrage on a bipartisan basis. But the Trump Administration has thus far missed the opportunity speak out against the deteriorating situation for human rights in Turkey, including the detention and persecution of Amnesty staff,” said Walsh. “We urge the Trump Administration to denounce this horrific crackdown without delay.”