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Turkey Jails 6 Human-Rights Activists for 'Aiding Terrorists'


People walk outside Istanbul's court, July 17, 2017.
People walk outside Istanbul's court, July 17, 2017.

Turkey has jailed six human-rights activists, including Amnesty International's Turkey chief, for allegedly aiding terrorists.

Police arrested the six during a raid on a hotel on the island of Buyukada on July 5, during a digital security workshop. On Tuesday a court in Istanbul ordered them to remain behind bars until a trial.

In addition to Amnesty's director of operations in Turkey, Idil Eser, German and Swiss human-rights workers were among the detainees.

Turkish media reports said the six are accused of having been in contact with Kurdish and leftist militants and suspected members of the movement led by exiled Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen - once President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's close ally, but now at the top of the Turkish government's most-wanted list.

Turkey blames Gulen, a religious scholar who has lived in obscurity in the United States for decades, for last year's failed coup. The aged cleric denies the charges against him.

"This is not a legitimate investigation. This is a politically motivated witch hunt that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey," Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said Tuesday.

The United States also condemned the arrests.

"Prosecutions like these with little evidence or transparency undermine Turkey's rule of law and the country's obligation to respect individual rights," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

The U.S. urged Turkey to drop the charges, free the six prisoners, and lift provisions of the country's state of emergency that allow what the U.S. spokeswoman called the "indiscriminate prosecutions of individuals."

Turkey extended its post-coup state of emergency three more months this week, shortly after voters narrowly approved a referendum to amend the constitution and expand President Erdogan's powers.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Erdogan on his referendum victory, but many European Union leaders fear the impending constitutional changes will further erode human rights and free speech in Turkey and muzzle the opposition.

More than 50,000 people have been arrested during a yearlong crackdown since last year's coup. In addition, 110,000 civil servants, members of the military and law-enforcement agencies were dismissed for either participating in the coup or actively sympathizing with the plotters.