Nov 17 2018

One arrested, 10 released following detentions for 'organising Gezi protests'

This story will be updated with new developments as they take place.

Turkish police have released 10 of the 13 academics and intellectuals detained on Friday, while formally arresting one person for their alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests of 2013.

The detention of the 13 people, linked with Kavala's NGO Anadolu Kültür, pertain to their alleged involvement in the nationwide Gezi Park protests of 2013, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office said in a press release on the police operation on Friday. The protests, which started as the defence of a park in central Istanbul, grew to encompass a range of progressive and opposition causes.

Yiğit Aksakoğlu, a well-known name in Turkish civil society for his work on children rights following his detention on Friday, left-wing Evrensel reported.

Five of the detainees - Turgut Trahanlı, Asena Günal, Meltem Aslan Çelikkan, Hande Özhabeş and Bora Sarı - were released on Friday evening.  

Academic Betül Tanbay was released on Saturday after giving her deposition. 

Anadolu Kültür's Hakan Altınay and Yiğit Ekmekçi were also released late Saturday afternoon, independent news site Diken reported.

Director Yusuf Cıvır and Anadolu Kültür member Ayşegül Güzel were among the detainees released Saturday evening, after giving their depositions in court.

The detainees are charged with spreading the Gezi protests, bringing trainers and professional activists from abroad for the organisation of the protests, and promoting the activities in the media, according to the statement from the prosecutor's office.

Ceyda Sungur, who was pepper sprayed by the police and became a symbol of Gezi protests as “the woman in red” and Erdem Gündüz, a performance artist, who is known as “the standing man” for joining the street protests by standing still for hours, are among names the police says the detainees recruited from abroad.

Osman Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year, got in touch with his foreign contacts during the protests in an effort to stop imports of tear gas to Turkey, the prosecutor’s office said.

Altinay joins Kavala as one of the most high-profile figures among tens of thousands jailed since a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016. The European Union has called for the release of Kavala, scores of journalists and other detainees not directly responsible for the violence and has frozen membership talks with the government citing its democratic failings.

The United States is very concerned about Turkey’s detention of academics, journalists, and civil society activists with ties to the Anatolia Culture Association (Anadolu Kültür), the U.S. State Department said on Friday. 

“We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, association, and assembly, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to release those held arbitrarily,” The U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri protested the detentions on Twitter.

“Another brutal assault on Turkish civil society with the arrests of prominent academics and the entire board of Osman Kavala’s Anadolu Kültür,” she said.

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, criticised the latest arrests, calling them an "alarming development".

A spokesperson for the European Commission also called the detentions alarming, and, beyond the academics detained on Friday, called on Turkey to release any persons detained without due process immediately. 

"Repeated detentions of critical voices and the continued widespread pressure on civil society representatives run counter to the Turkish government’s declared commitment to human rights and to fundamental freedoms and announced reforms in the field of rule of law and judiciary," the statement said.

"The EU will continue to raise these serious issues, including at the forthcoming High-Level Political Dialogue on 22 November," it added.

Betül Tanbay, an academic, and Turgut Tarhanlı, the dean of Istanbul Bilgi University’s Faculty of Law, were also among those detained.

Kavala’s Anadolu Kültür, founded by Kavala to support diversity and democracy through cultural exchange, gave birth to the Hafıza Merkezi (Memory Centre) a Turkish non-governmental organisation that focuses on extra-judicial killings and disappearances that took place in Turkey’s southeast during the 1990s, at the peak of an armed conflict between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants.

Yiğit Ekmekçi, the deputy head of Anadolu Kültür’s board, was also in police custody, along with Asena Günal, the general coordinator of the organisation, Meltem Aslan, the founder of Hafıza Merkezi, and Çiğdem Mater, a producer and one of the co-initiators of Anadolu Kültür’s Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform.

Bora Sanlı, Ayşegül Güzel, Hande Özhabeş, Filiz Telek, and Yiğit Aksakoğlu are also among the  detainees. Yusuf Civir, a digital project manager, was apprehended for taking part in the production of a theatre play, which the prosecutor's office said helped spark the Gezi protests.

The Human Rights Association (İHD), one of Turkey's most-prominent pro-democracy NGOs, demanded the immediate release of the 13 people. The association said authorities in Turkey had enforced laws arbitrarily and the political powers were oppressing their opponents, according to news website Bianet. 

Erol Bilecik, head of the Turkish Industry and Business Association, noted that the arrests followed news of the Turkish government's plan to increase the wages of academics in order to reverse the brain drain.

“It is sad to start the day with the news about many academics being arrested in a period when we discuss the return of our academics abroad,” he said on Twitter.

Bahri Belen, the lawyer of Betül Tanbay, told Evrensel newspaper that the case file related to the arrests had been launched in 2014 and the details of the investigation had not been shared with the lawyers yet due to a confidentiality order on the file.

A total of 20 people are to be detained over links to Kavala, according to pro-government Sabah newspaper.  

Kavala was first detained by police on Oct. 18, 2017 at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport as he arrived on a flight from the eastern province of Gaziantep, where he supported projects for Syrian refugees.

He was later arrested on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order.

Kavala has been incarcerated without an indictment and accusations against him are based on articles published in the pro-government news media.

Press release on arrests