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Activists to make final statements before Turkish 'terror' trial

Turkey accuses the activists of plotting against Erdogan [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2020

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Human rights activists in Turkey were asked to make final statements before a verdict that could see them charged them terrorism.

A group of human rights activists were poised Wednesday to make final statements in their own defense before a court in Istanbul hands down a verdict in their closely-watched trial on charges of belonging to or groups classified as terrorist by Ankara.

The case against Amnesty International's former Turkey chairman and 10 other activists heightened concerns about Turkey's treatment of human rights defenders and helped sour Turkey's relations with European nations, notably with Germany.

Ten activists — including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi — were detained in a police raid in July 2017, while attending a digital security training workshop on Buyukada island, off Istanbul.

The 11th activist, Amnesty's former Turkey chairman, Taner Kilic, was detained separately a month earlier in the city of Izmir. All of the defendants have since been released pending a verdict in the trial.

Ten defendants were charged with aiding terrorist organisations, including Kurdish and left-wing militants and the network led by a US-based cleric, which the Turkish government blames for the 2016 coup attempt and has designated as a terror group.

Kilic is accused of membership in cleric Fethullah Gulen's network. The accusation was based on his alleged use of an encrypted mobile messaging application. Officials say the application was used by members of Gulen's network to communicate with each other. Gulen denies allegations that he engineered the coup attempt.

All 11 defendants have rejected the accusations against them.

"For justice to be done, all 11 must be acquitted," Amnesty said in a statement. "They should never have been investigated, let alone imprisoned or prosecuted."

The trial comes a day after Turkish prosecutors ordered a prominent philanthropist, Osman Kavala, detained for alleged ties to a 2016 coup attempt, just hours after a court acquitted him on terrorism-related charges and ordered his release from jail after 840 days. Human Rights Watch called the decision to re-arrest Kavala "vindictive and lawless".

Germany's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was watching closely the case against Kilic and the "Istanbul 10".

Turkey has arrested some 77,000 people and has dismissed around 130,000 others from state jobs since the coup. The crackdown was initially launched to deal with the alleged coup-plotters, but critics say it was expanded to include other government opponents, including human rights defenders.

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