Of the 13 people detained on November 16, 12 were released but are banned from overseas travel. An Istanbul court ruled that Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, who has worked for many years in the field of human rights, including at Istanbul Bilgi University, should be placed in pretrial detention pending completion of a criminal investigation. The court cited as grounds for the decision wiretaps and surveillance showing his involvement in meetings about civil disobedience and non-violent assembly whose content the court stated it had no information about. Human Rights Watch considers the grounds for his pretrial detention unjustified and his detention a violation of international law. Aksakaloğlu should be released immediately.

(Berlin) – The dubious arrest on November 16, 2018 of 13 prominent figures from academia and a nongovernmental group deepens Turkey’s repressive climate and cycle of injustice, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Istanbul and three other provinces detained the 13 in dawn raids.

Among them is a human rights professor, Turgut Tarhanlı, law faculty dean at Istanbul Bilgi University, and several other people working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür, a nongovernmental group that focuses on arts, cultural exchange, and human rights. Kavala, the group’s leader, has been held without charge or indictment in pretrial detention for the past year. Tarhanlı and three others were released with an overseas travel ban after questioning.

“The detentions of the 13 are all about concocting a case against the prominent civil society leader and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been unjustly jailed for over a year,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “It defies belief that the Istanbul prosecutor is investigating Kavala and the others for organizing the Gezi protests, which ended over five years ago.”

The Turkish authorities should release all 13 and Kavala from custody immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

The Istanbul police issued a statement saying that the people detained are under investigation for their involvement in anti-government protests in 2013 in Istanbul, and elsewhere, that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The statement says that the criminal investigation against them is focused on Kavala, the well-known chair of Anadolu Kültür and a businessman. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently repeated their call for his immediate release, from what is, at this stage, blatant arbitrary detention.

The Istanbul police statement about the detentions says “it has been proved” that Kavala “financed and organized” the 2013 Gezi protests through a foundation, Açık Toplum Vakfı (Open Society Foundation), and Anadolu Kültür, and thus attempted to “violently overthrow the government or partially or wholly prevent its functions.”

The statement accuses the 13 people detained, and seven others who have not been named, of operating in a hierarchical structure with Kavala toward those ends. This group, the statement said, sought to “deepen and spread the Gezi Park incidents,” to perpetuate them under the heading of “civil disobedience and non-violent actions” by bringing “activism educators, moderators and professional activists from abroad.” According to the statement, the group also attempted to set up new media to keep the Gezi incidents and other similar actions on the agenda, and that Kavala met with many institutions and individuals in Europe to try to get a ban on the import of teargas to Turkey.

The 13 detained, to whom many of the authorities have attributed inaccurate or out of date affiliations, include two academics, and the others mostly working for or connected with Anadolu Kültür: They are, in addition to Tarhanlı: Hakan Altınay, Asena Günal, Meltem Aslan, Yiğit Ekmekçi, Bora Sarı, Ayşegül Güzel, Çiğdem Mater, Betül Tanbay, Hande Özhabeş, Fılız Telek, Yiğit Aksakaloğlu, and Yusuf Cıvır.

The most recent arrests and claims expose Turkey’s position that equates any criticism of government policies and action, including and maybe particularly on, human rights grounds, with efforts to overthrow it. Such a position flies in the face of a government that claims to be a democracy that respects human rights and rule of law.

Turkey’s international partners, including the European Union, should press Turkish authorities to immediately release Kavala, all 13 of those detained on November 16, and the imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and other activists against whom the authorities have not provided evidence of internationally recognizable crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

European Union officials will hold a high-level political dialogue on November 22 in Ankara and should put the continued crackdown on civil society and on media at the top of their concerns.

“The police allegations against the 13 people detained and Kavala slap the charge of attempting to topple the government on Kavala but provide no evidence of criminal activity,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Detaining more people won’t make trumped up charges more believable.”