A new wave of crackdown against activists and academics explodes Turkey's social media

Friday’s news that Turkish police detained a dozen academics, intellectuals, and activists said to be linked to jailed Turkish philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala created an outcry in social media. 

According to the Istanbul’s Prosecutor’s Office and police, 13 people have been detained for their links to Anadolu Kültür, an organisation that promotes democracy and peace through cultural exchange. The detainees are said also to be linked in the organisation of Gezi Park protests and accused of recruiting activists from abroad to promote the protests and to spread it across the country. 

The arrests 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.

“One of our prisons is likely to enter the world’s top 500 universities list,” one Twitter user quipped when the news first broke. 

The detentions of Turgut Tarhanlı, a professor of law, and Betül Tanbay, a professor of mathematics, sparked particular anger.

“In another world, Turgut Tarhanlı would be a judge in the European Court of Human Rights, said Yahya Madra, an academic.

Tarhanlı is the dean of Istanbul Bilgi University’s Faculty of Law and the founder of the university’s Human Rights Programme. 

“No specific political opinion has been punished by the detention of Turgut Tarhanlı. Prof. Tarhanlı is not a person that supports one political wing, he represents an attitude as an academic that offers different universal perspectives. All his students know that,” another Twitter user said.

Tarhanlı’s colleagues at Bilgi University also shared a statement, asking his detention to be handled in a manner that is compatible with the rule of law.

“There are only 500 people on earth that are as worthy as Betül Tanbay. She is an extraordinary person,” said one Twitter user about Boğaziçi University’s professor, who is also the vice-chair of European Mathematics Association.

Not all the names were as well-known as Tarhanlı and Tanbay, but all have had productive careers in their fields and have been prominent in some form of activism. Among those detained was Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, one of the founders of Istanbul Bilgi University and a philanthropist who helped set up the Peace Foundation of Turkey. 

Güventürk Görgülü, an academic at Bilgi University, said Ekmekçi had helped many young disadvantaged people who wanted to continue their education. “He was the first one to knock the door for students who were facing difficulties,” he said. 

Asena Günal, the general coordinator of Anadolu Kültür, had been scheduled to attend the reception tonight for a new exhibition celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event has been cancelled following her detention.

Another of those arrested is Meltem Aslan, a prominent civil society activist in Turkey and the founder of the Memory Centre, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to investigating the extra-judicial killings and disappearances that took place in southeast Turkey in the 1990s.

The police report said Aslan had also been arrested because of her marriage to Murat Çellikan, an opposition journalist and the co-founder of the same centre. 

Several opposition outlets commented on this arrest on Friday describing the inclusion of Aslan’s marriage details on a police report as a scandal.

Çiğdem Mater, a movie producer and one of the organisers of Anadolu Kültür’s Turkey-Armenia cinema Platform, was arrested on Friday morning in the southern province of Muğla.

Mater is also known for her dedicated work in the group called “Hrant’s Friends’, an initiative founded after the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

By Friday afternoon the furor over the arrests and their link to the Gezi Park protests had seized the top spot on Turkey’s agenda on Twitter. An estimated 3.5 million Turks joined the protests in 2013, and many of these showed their support for the academics under the hashtag #hepimizGezideydik – “We were all at Gezi.”