Defending Human Rights Is Not A Crime: Activists Detained By Turkish Government

Last week, eight human rights activists were detained without cause while attending a digital security and information management workshop at a hotel in Buyuada, Turkey, as a result of a raid conducted by security forces. These activists were all relatively high profile, and the group included members of Women’s Coalition; Human Rights Agenda Association; Citizens Assembly; and the  Equal Rights Watch Association. Among this group was the Director of Amnesty International in Turkey, Idil Eser.

On the news of the detention, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty stated that it was “a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country”. She called for the detainees to be released immediately and unconditionally. Ironically, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergodan was detained in 1998 while he was the Mayor of Istanbul. He was detained for reading a poem which the secular government found threatening. Amnesty International demanded his release at the time, and are now demanding that he release their own and the other human rights activists that his security forces detained.

Although Turkey has been in a state of emergency for approximately a year following the unsuccessful coup against President Erdogan, the fact that human rights defenders cannot come together to discuss issues on how to maximize their aid in the precarious situation, which exists in Turkey for many, is distressing and upsetting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the days leading up to the G20 summit, stated that the importance of a free and vibrant civil society would be a key item on the agenda. Additionally, on finding out the news of the detention, the US State Department spoke out about the concern held by the United States on the situation in Turkey, and that “more voices, not fewer, are necessary in challenging times”. However, are these concerned words held by the leaders of the nation’s enough to help Turkey, and ensure the release of these human rights activists? And even if these activists are released, who is to say that it won’t happen again in the near future? These are the issues that need to be addressed, and quickly. If they are not addressed, there is the risk of having the human rights voice completely quashed in Turkey and other countries where the activists face similar perils. Without these activists and defenders, there is no knowing what acts these countries will commit. In the words of Angela Merkel, the strengthening of civil society is a necessity in ensuring free societies.

Letitia Smith