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Turkey court rules to keep six rights activists in custody

Fulya OZERKAN
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A Turkish court orders that six human rights activists including Amnesty International's Turkey director remain in custody for aiding a terror group, in a case the NGO calls a 'travesty of justice'

A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered that six human rights activists including Amnesty International's Turkey director remain in custody for aiding a terror group, in a case the NGO called a "travesty of justice."

Turkey director Idil Eser was detained on July 5 along with seven other activists and two foreign trainers during a digital security and information management workshop on Buyukada, an island south of Istanbul.

"Six were remanded in custody and four released on judicial control," Amnesty International's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner told AFP.

Prosecutors accuse them of "committing a crime in the name of a terror organisation without being a member," he said.

Their detention sparked international alarm and amplified fears of declining freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The ruling came a day after the activists, who have not yet been put on trial or formally charged, gave statements to prosecutors for the first time since their detention.

Eight of those detained were Turkish rights activists, including Ilknur Ustun of the Women's Coalition and Veli Acu of the Human Rights Agenda Association. Four of those have now been released, Gardner said.

Two foreigners -- a German and a Swedish national who were leading the digital information workshop -- remain in pre-trial detention.

Gardner said the court verdict was a "shocking travesty of justice."

"It is politically motivated targeting not just of these six human rights defenders who have been remanded in pre-trial prison custody but it is taking aim at Turkey's entire human rights movement," he told AFP.

"What we've learnt today is that defending human rights has become a crime in Turkey," Gardner added.

"After this decision none of us who defend human rights in Turkey, whether it is Amnesty International or other organisations, are safe in this country. This decision cannot be allowed to stand."

- Massive crackdown -

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this month that the activists were detained on a tip-off they were working against the government, comparing them to those involved in a failed putsch in July last year.

Gardner earlier said the meeting on Buyukada had been a "routine" workshop and there was nothing suspicious about it.

"What is absolutely crystal clear, one hundred percent clear is this was a routine human rights workshop -- the sort of workshop that happens all over Turkey, in fact the sort of workshop that happens all over the world," he said.

Turkish authorities have launched a massive crackdown in the wake of the coup on people suspected of links to a movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed by Ankara for the attempted power grab.

Amnesty International's Turkey chair Taner Kilic was last month also arrested, accused of links to Gulen. The preacher denies allegations he was behind the coup attempt.

More than 50,000 people have been jailed and over 100,000 including judges, teachers, police and other state servants have been dismissed.

Gardner said before the court ruling that country director Eser remained "in good spirits."

"She sent messages that as soon as she is released she wants to carry on from where she left off," he said.