ISTANBUL — Security forces in Turkey have detained more than a dozen lawyers as part of a nationwide sweep against illegal leftist groups. Among those detained include some of the country's most well-known human rights advocates.
In a crackdown on the activities of an illegal left wing group, 15 lawyers were among 85 people detained under anti-terror laws by Turkish security forces in a nationwide operation.
With many of the detained lawyers being well-known human rights defenders, several human rights groups around the world have voiced alarm.
Emma Sinclair Webb, who is with U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said, "It's very concerning to find lawyers the targets of police operations at four o'clock in the morning, having their doors broken down. These lawyers are all known for their activities in defense of human rights, for pursuing police violence cases."
Security forces said they target members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Front (DHKP-C), a group blamed for a number of attacks in Turkey since the 1970s. The Turkish government has accused the lawyers of transferring instructions from the group's imprisoned leaders to militants.
Seven of the detained lawyers belong to the Progressive Lawyers Association, which last year launched a telephone hot line for people to report police abuse.
In a statement, the lawyers' group condemned the detentions, calling them an attack against people and institutions that oppose the government and struggle for democracy and freedom.
The arrests also included five members of a popular left-wing folk music group.
Sinclair Webb of Human Rights Watch said the detentions part of a worrying trend. "This looks to be part of wider clampdown under anti-terror laws, which we have seen in Turkey over the last few years increasing,"he said. "This clampdown affects journalist's, human rights defenders and lawyers."
According to international human rights groups, Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world. The government claims none of them are in jail for their pursuits of journalist activities.
In a report this week, the watchdog group Freedom House categorized Turkey as only a partially free country in its "Freedom in the World Report," due to what it described as a serious decline in civil liberties and political rights.