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NGOs demand release of Turkish activists held over protests

Published: Updated:

Civil society groups called Wednesday for Turkey’s release of 16 people including philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala accused of attempting to overthrow the government, denouncing it as an “orchestrated campaign of intimidation”.

Kavala has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year while activist Yigit Aksakoglu has been held for three months.

They and others currently detained “should be immediately released”, 10 Turkish and international NGOs including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a joint statement in Istanbul.

“We, the undersigned organizations, stand united against these efforts to destroy independent civil society in Turkey, call for an end to the orchestrated campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment of civil society activists in Turkey,” the NGOs said.

The joint action comes a week after a prosecutor sought life in prison for Kavala and 15 others accused of links to 2013 anti-government protests against then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Erdogan, president since 2014, has openly accused Kavala of “financing the terrorists” during the mass protests that emanated from the government’s plans to redevelop Istanbul’s central Gezi park, but then spread all over Turkey.

Kavala, a respected figure in intellectual circles in Turkey and abroad, has been kept in pre-trial custody since November 1, 2017 at the Silivri prison outside Istanbul.

Erol Onderoglu, RSF representative in Turkey, said Wednesday that levelling accusations of an attempt to topple the government against the activists “could only undermine confidence in the government”.

The United States and the European Union have strongly criticized Ankara for indicting the civil society, media and business leaders.

A State Department statement said Saturday the US was “gravely concerned”, urging Turkey to respect its citizens’ freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly “and to release all those held arbitrarily.”