The Turkish government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is continuing its crackdown on dissident voices, arresting eight human rights activists Wednesday, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, Idil Eser – a move which the charity called “a grotesque abuse of power.” Erdoğan’s growing authoritarian rule has led Europe to call for a suspension of talks between Brussels and Ankara over Turkey’s accession to the EU.
Eser was detained along with seven other human rights defenders during a digital security and information management workshop at a hotel in the Büyükada neighborhood of Istanbul. Two people running the workshop, from Germany and Sweden, were also arrested.
In a statement Thursday, Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said the charity was “profoundly disturbed and outraged” that human rights activists were detained without cause. “This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country. Idil Eser and those detained with her must be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Turkish authorities initially denied the 10 people access to lawyers — legal for 24 hours after arrest in Turkey — and the right to contact a family member, which should be granted immediately. On Thursday afternoon, authorities revealed the five different locations where they are detaining those arrested.
The detention of Eser comes less than a month after Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kiliç, was arrested along with 22 other lawyers and charged with membership in a “terrorist” organization, a charge Amnesty called “baseless.”
Following a controversial Turkish referendum in April, a new constitution granted Erdoğan sweeping new powers. The move has worried many in the international community, already concerned at the Turkish president’s media crackdown. Scores of journalists have been imprisoned, and over 100 media organizations have been shut down.
The European Parliament called for talks over Turkey’s accession to the European Union to be suspended if it implemented the new constitution — a decision rejected by Turkey’s EU minister, Ömer Çelik.
Turkey remains in a state of emergency almost a year after a failed coup in July 2016 that attempted to remove Erdoğan from power. In the widespread crackdown since the coup, more than 50,000 people have been arrested and detained, many of them public servants accused of supporting the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The referendum in April granted Erdoğan sweeping new powers, including the transfer of executive powers from the prime minister to the president, and potentially allows Erdoğan to remain as president for a third term. The new constitution has led critics to suggest it represents yet another step toward authoritarianism.
“It is clear that cooperation is needed with Turkey, but if the new constitution is implemented in a way that runs contrary to EU democratic standards, accession talks with the current Turkish government must be ended,” said the Parliament’s lead negotiator on Turkey, MEP Kati Piri.
In a rare interview with a foreign newspaper this week, Erdoğan denied that he was a dictator, telling German publication Zeit those accusing him have been informed incorrectly and they “should look up what dictator means.”