Istanbul court releases eight human rights activists, including Amnesty Turkey head
A court in Istanbul late on Oct. 25 ordered the release of eight human rights activists from prison pending the outcome of their trial on “terror” charges.
The defendants, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, were detained in a police raid while attending a digital security training workshop in July.
“We will continue to press on until all our friends including journalists and [Amnesty International Director] Taner Kılıç] are also released,” Eser said upon her release on Oct. 26.
The activists had an emotional reunion with their relatives waiting outside jail upon their release.
“I think we’re all more than relieved ... Speaking for myself, I am really grateful and we are really grateful for everybody who supported us legally, diplomatically and for solidarity,” said Peter Steudtner, who had been detained since July 5.
Steudtner’s jailing had prompted the German government to toughen its stance toward Turkey by revising its travel advice and threatening to withhold backing for investments there.
“[This] is an encouraging signal, a first step,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told news magazine Der Spiegel upon the Istanbul court’s order for the release of Steudtner, along with seven other activists.
Gabriel said in a statement that the ruling does not change the fact that other Germans are in custody in Turkey for “incomprehensible reasons,” adding that the German government “will not let up in pushing for a solution and release in these cases too.”
However, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty criticized the decision by an İzmir court not to release Kılıç the following day.
“The release of the Istanbul 10 late last night restored some faith in Turkey’s justice system. Today, that faith has been washed away. We will continue the undaunted to campaign for the release of our chair and the dropping of the charges against all human rights defenders in Turkey,” Shetty said.
The Turkish government had accused the group of “aiding armed terrorist organizations” through civil society actions in Turkey. The government had also accused the activists of being members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far-left DHKP-C, and the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
The authorities had detained 10 defendants in July while they were attending a human rights workshop on Büyükada, an island near Istanbul.
Critics, including the governments of the United States, the European Union and Germany, called the government’s allegations against the human rights activists politically motivated and “absurd.”
More than 50,000 people have been detained as some 150,000 sacked from their jobs under a state of emergency that has been in place since the failed coup attempt.
The crackdown has ignited international concern about the deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey