LONDON - Human rights group Amnesty International held events Thursday to mark 100 days since several of its Turkish staffers were detained in Istanbul.
This week, Turkish prosecutors officially filed an indictment against 10 of the human rights activists detained in July, along with Amnesty’s Turkey chairman Taner Kilic, and demanded jail sentences of up to 15 years on charges of supporting terrorist organizations.
Amnesty labeled the indictment “trumped-up and absurd.”
WATCH: Amnesty Marks 100 Days of Detention for Turkey Staff, as Ankara's Rift With West Grows
“They were on day three of a workshop, a very routine workshop about digital security and also about maintaining the well-being of human rights defenders in difficult circumstances,” Amnesty’s Milena Buyum told VOA. “The imprisonment of human rights defenders is doubly problematic, because then the people who would be the defense against abuses are themselves being silenced.”
The detentions are part of a government crackdown following the 2016 failed coup, which has soured relations between Ankara and its Western allies, culminating this week in the mutual suspension of visa services between the United States and Turkey.
Bass announces visa suspensions
The outgoing U.S. ambassador, John Bass, announced the suspension of nonimmigrant visa services Sunday, following the recent unexplained arrests of two local employees.
“This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States,” said Bass, who is leaving Turkey to assume a new assignment in Afghanistan. “If true, this would put the people who work with, and work at, and visit our diplomatic facilities at risk,” he told reporters.
Turkey has accused the detained workers from the U.S. diplomatic mission of having links to U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup.
War of words
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed the war of words at a press conference Thursday.
“The United States is trying to protect the rights of someone who has links to the Fetullah Terror Organization, who is hiding in their consulate with no diplomatic identity.”
Turkey’s rift with Berlin has also deepened as 11 German citizens go on trial on terror charges. Some German lawmakers want Europe to follow Washington's lead.
“We still have a military cooperation with Turkey, our intelligences work together, we subsidize Turkey, the EU is in negotiations with Turkey about a customs union and visa liberalization is on the table as well. We see that the U.S. dealt with the issue differently. We have to ask ourselves what we need to do right now,” German lawmaker Heike Haensel said Wednesday before the start of the trial in Istanbul.
As relations between Turkey and its NATO allies continue to be strained, the United States says it is continuing to engage the Turkish government to seek an explanation for the arrests of its embassy staff.