Turkish Government Detains Amnesty International Turkey Chairman Over ‘Gulen Links’

After being detained last Tuesday, Taner Kiliç, the Chairman for Amnesty International in Turkey, and up to 22 other attorneys were officially arrested late Friday by a Turkish Court in the western province of Izmir. They were arrested under the accusation of using ByLock, an encrypted mobile messaging app that was said to be used by The Gulen Movement during the organization of a failed military coup in July 2016.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, has called for the release of the 23 members involved and for all charges to be dropped because of “the absence of credible and admissible evidence of their involvement in internationally recognised crimes.” Orhan Miroglu, a member of the parliament’s human rights commission and an MP with the ruling Justice and Development Party (otherwise known as AKP), has stated, “It’s unfortunate that the head of a reputed human rights organisation has been detained. However, people are investigated over Gulen links regardless of their affiliation.”

Amnesty International is an independent organisation that focuses on human rights, making sure governments, companies and groups “respect international law.” Amnesty works against injustice, including armed conflict, corporate accountability, discrimination and freedom of expression. Therefore, the accusations against Kiliç undermines everything the organisation fights for. If accusations are true, Amnesty will have to crack down on these injustices within their own organisation as it will tie them to involvement in an armed conflict. However, the reputation of the organisation makes this highly unlikely and Amnesty is positive the accusations are wrong, having already started a petition in support of Kiliç, which reassures signers that “Taner Kiliç is not a criminal or a terrorist; he is a longstanding defender of human rights in Turkey and must be released.”

The Gulen Links refer to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric known for leading an Islamic transnational religious and social movement referred to as Hizmet, or The Gulen Movement. Turkish authorities see this group as a terrorist organisation and believe Gulen is responsible for organizing the failed military coup that occurred in Turkey last July. During the failed attempt to overthrow President Erdoğan, a military faction overtook tanks and helicopters, firing at police and protesters in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. The coup resulted in at least 265 deaths, 161 were civilians and police, with another 1440 wounded. Consequently, there have been thousands of arrests of those thought to be linked to Gulen, including high-profile figures like the Chief Adviser to the Turkish Prime Minister, and now the Turkish Head of Amnesty International. Nonetheless, Gulen continues to deny these accusations.

This event creates a complex vision of the future for peace and security in Turkey, especially regarding its relationship with Amnesty International. On the petition, Amnesty stated that Kiliç’s “detention is further proof of just how widespread and arbitrary Turkey’s post-coup crackdown has become.” The arrests may have raised Amnesty’s interest in the Turkish government, which could result in more backlash against their future actions. Additionally, this crackdown could impact on the US-Turkey relationship, as last week Gulen was given three months to return to Turkey from the US, where he has lived since 1999 before they officially strip him of his Turkish citizenship. With the increasing crackdown by both the US and Turkey on “terrorist activities,” these arrests and accusations become linked to a much larger issue about the peace and security of political asylum seekers. Raising questions about the future including: Is Amnesty International no longer welcome in Turkey? Will Kiliç seek asylum in another nation-state to escape the injustice of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown? And, what would happen to Gulen if Trump is able to pass a Muslim ban that lead to his deportation?

No matter what happens, Amnesty International will without a doubt continue to fight for justice.

Kate Eager