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Rights Group Calls for Release of Detained Turkish Chairman

FILE - Activists of Amnesty International stage a protest against the detention of the head of Amnesty International in Turkey, Taner Kılıç, in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin, Germany, June 15, 2017.

As Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim prepares to meet with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington Thursday, Amnesty International has called on the U.S. to demand that Turkey release the group's country chairman who has been jailed for months.

“The Prime Minister’s visit to Washington takes place during an unprecedented crackdown on human rights in Turkey," Naureen Shah, senior director of campaigns at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. "Although international pressure has already secured the release of the Istanbul 10 on bail, Taner Kılıç remains behind bars."

Kılıç, jailed for downloading ByLock, a popular encrypted messaging app, and 10 of his colleagues face up to 15 years in prison on what Amnesty International calls "absurd" terror charges.

Turkish authorities say the messaging app is used by supporters of Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt last summer. Gulen repeatedly has denied any involvement in the coup plot, though Ankara maintains he masterminded the unsuccessful overthrow.

Turkey’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that simply downloading the messaging app to one’s phone was evidence a person belonged to a terrorist group.

“Defending human rights is not a crime. No country should arbitrarily silence and detain critics. It is time for Vice President Pence and other members of the administration to publicly urge Prime Minister Yildrim to ensure all charges against Taner Kılıç and the Istanbul 10 are dropped immediately," Amnesty's Shah wrote.