Detention of 13 activists a sign of renewed crackdown by Turkish government

  • 13 activists and academics arrested and detained by police in clear act of intimidation
  • Prominent activist Yiğit Aksakoğlu remains in pre-trial custody
  • Recent detentions spark fears of renewed crackdown on dissent
  • Detentions come ahead of meeting between EU and Turkish officials today

Global and Turkish human rights groups fear that the detention of thirteen activists and academics could signal a new upsurge in a state crackdown on dissent in Turkey.

On October 16, police raided the homes of well-known human rights defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu and twelve other activists and academics. They were detained on suspicion of having violated Article 312 of the Penal Code, which regulates crimes such as attempts to overthrow the government, and interrogated about the Gezi protests in 2013.

The activists were accused of having connections with Anadolu Kültür and Açık Toplum Vakfı, civil society organisations affiliated to activist and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned since 2017. Twelve of the activists have been released but Yiğit is in pre-trial detention at Silivri Prison, some 90 kilometres west of the capital, Istanbul.

Global civil society, CIVICUS, and local rights groups have condemned the detentions, which is clearly intended as an act of intimidation.

Yiğit, who is regularly under surveillance by the state, is accused of moderating meetings after the Geza protests – despite a court’s admission that the content of the meetings cannot be ascertained. The authorities claim that his meetings and telephone communications highlight plans to organise civil disobedience campaigns.

Yiğit has been active in civil society circles since the 1990s in Turkey. He is committed to promoting human rights, non-violence and pluralism. He is currently the representative of the Bernard Leer Foundation, a Dutch Foundation that focuses on early childhood development and child welfare.

“The continued pre-trial detention of Yiğit Aksakoğlu is an ominous indication of the paranoid state of democracy in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which continues to persecute those who engage in public debate on political issues,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer.

“It is a common tactic to silence intellectuals under the guise that they plan to overthrow the government despite lifting of the state of emergency in July 2018. The European Union should raise these concerns during their meeting with Turkish officials today,” said Tiwana.

The most recent detentions and persecution of Yiğit and other activists raise serious concerns over a renewed crackdown on activists and citizens in a manner similar to the wave of repression the authorities unleashed in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016. At least 136,990 activists, academics and citizens and 319 journalists have been detained since the failed coup. In addition, 189 media outlets have been shut down.

CIVICUS urges Turkish authorities to end the onslaught on democratic rights. Yiğit Aksakoğlu should be released immediately along-with others imprisoned because of their political beliefs since the crackdown on perceived government opponents began in 2016. We call on the European Union to raise these concerns with Turkish officials during the political meeting today and urge the Turkish authorities to create an enabling environment for activists, journalists and academics to do their work without fear of intimidation or arrest.

Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe.

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:

David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS