Exactly a month after the Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kılıç, was arrested and charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” his colleague and Director of Amnesty International Turkey, Idil Eser, was detained on the same charges.
Eser was taken into custody by police while attending a conference on Prince’s Islands in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul, along with at least seven other members of human rights organizations, two trainers that were running the workshop, and the owner of the hotel where they were staying. The hotel owner was later released, but the other nine remain behind bars. Since the incident, Amnesty has been vociferously calling for the release of both Kılıç and Eser, as well as the detained rights workers.
The targeting of Amnesty officials in Turkey is particularly egregious. Despite the organization’s politically sensitive work, as well as the hostile environments in which it often operates, never in Amnesty’s history have both a country director and chair been simultaneously detained.
There is irony at play here, as well. In 1998, Amnesty campaigned for the release of the man responsible for this recent wave of arrests, current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after he himself was sentenced to ten months in prison for reciting a provocative poem while serving as Istanbul’s mayor. Erdogan was released after serving only four months of his sentence.
— Kharunya Paramaguru (@Kharunya) July 6, 2017
The tweet and attached video, currently pinned to the top of the @amnesty Twitter feed, angrily call out Erdogan for his hypocrisy.
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) July 7, 2017
Unfortunately, it is unlikely Erdogan will be moved by these appeals. Since the July 2016 coup attempt, thousands of Turks have been detained and convicted on similar charges, with little to no evidence connecting them to terrorist groups or activities. Even more, Erdogan has shown he has no qualms about abandoning even his closest political allies in order to consolidate power.
If he has no loyalty towards the men who worked alongside him for so many years, he will certainly feel no debt to Amnesty for its advocacy on his behalf, almost twenty years ago.
With the first anniversary of last year’s attempted coup approaching, political tensions in Turkey are increasing. The country’s main opposition leader is set to complete his Justice March with a rally in Istanbul today. As Steven A. Cook and Howard Eissenstat point out, Erdogan is undoubtedly incensed by the march. While he likely wants to suppress it, he probably realizes that a violent crackdown would destroy his claims to democratic leadership and victimhood, following last year’s attempted coup. The same risks do not, however, apply to persecuting members of international human rights organizations. Indeed, these cases are fodder for fueling tales about international conspiracies against Turkey.
As Erdogan’s frustrations increase, more members of NGOs and civil society organizations may end up in prison.