Turkish Court Frees Activists From Jail Pending Verdicts

By NEYRAN ELDEN and SUZAN FRASER

Published October 25th, 2017

Turkish Court Frees Activists From Jail Pending Verdicts

ISTANBUL (AP) — A court in Istanbul on Wednesday ordered eight human rights activists released from prison pending the outcome of their trial on charges of belonging to and aiding terror groups.

The defendants, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, German citizen Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, were detained in a police raid while attending a digital security training workshop in July. Their cases have heightened concerns of an authoritarian turn under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The court ruled on the trial's opening day to free eight of the 10 activists being tried in Istanbul at least until the proceedings end, the Dogan news agency reported. The other two had been let out of custody.

An 11th activist, Amnesty's Turkey chairman, is being tried separately in another city and remains jailed.

The 10 defendants have been charged with plotting an uprising and aiding Kurdish and left-wing militants. They also stand accused of abetting the movement led by a U.S.-based cleric the Turkish government blames for a 2016 coup attempt. They face up to 15 years in prison, if convicted on all charges.

As their trial opened in Istanbul, the defendants denied the accusations and asked to be released.

"I dedicated my life to truth and justice, and that is all I ask of this court," Ozlem Dalkiran of the Citizens' Assembly organization testified, according to Amnesty's International Director for Europe John Dalhuisen.

Human rights groups say the defendants are accused of "trumped-up" charges.

Amnesty Turkey chairman Taner Kilic, who was imprisoned in June, is appearing before a different court for alleged links to cleric Fethullah Gulen. He is accused of using an encrypted mobile messaging application allegedly employed by Gulen's network.

Gulen himself has denied masterminding the coup attempt.

"There is not a shred of evidence against the 11 human rights defenders on trial today," Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey researcher, told The Associated Press.

"For 11 human rights defenders to be . picked up after a routine human rights seminar is an escalation of repression in Turkey," Gardner said.

The trial is one of several cases that have deepened a rift between Turkey and European nations, notably Germany, which considers Steudtner and some 10 other German or German-Turkish citizens jailed in Turkey to be political prisoners.

Steudtner, one of the digital workshop's trainers, told the court Wednesday that none of the accusations in the indictment linked him to a terror group and demanded his "release and acquittal," Amnesty said.

His jailing prompted the German government to toughen its stance toward Turkey by revising its travel advice and threatening to withhold backing for investments there.

"Turkey always points to the independence of its judiciary — we respect that, and against this background we hope that today's proceedings in Istanbul will send an encouraging signal of the rule of law and judicial independence in the case of Peter Steudtner," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said in Berlin.

She said Germany's consul in Istanbul was in the courtroom to observe the trial.

Turkey has arrested more than 50,000 people since the failed coup and sacked at least 110,000 others from government jobs. The crackdown was initially launched to deal with alleged coup-plotters, but critics say it has expanded to include other government opponents, such as academics, journalists and legislators.

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