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Nearly dozen rights activists to go on trial in Turkey next week

Chairman of Amnesty International Turkey Taner Kiliç

Turkey will put eleven human rights activists, including two local heads of Amnesty International, on trial next week on charges of affiliation to a movement led by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Ankara government accuses of having masterminded the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and aiding Kurdish and left-wing militants.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that the activists, among them Amnesty's Turkey director Idil Eser, German national Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, will stand trial at the main Istanbul court on October 25 after an indictment prepared by prosecutors was approved.

Ten of the defendants were arrested during a raid against a workshop on digital security at a hotel on Büyükada Island near Istanbul in July. Steudtner and Gharavi were leading the workshop.

Amnesty's Turkey chairman Taner Kilic, who was detained in June, will be tried alongside the ten.

The suspects are accused of links to Gulen's movement, and providing assistance to Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) militants.

German human rights activist Peter Steudtner (file photo)

Earlier this month, a Turkish prosecutor called for jail sentences of up to 15 years on terrorism charges for the activists.

Steudtner's detention stoked tensions in Berlin and German officials said they were reviewing Turkey's applications to buy weaponry from the Western European country.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has described the terror charges against the rights activists as “incomprehensible.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Turkey's 12-year bid for the European Union membership should be halted.

Sweden has also summoned Turkey's Ambassador Ömer Kaya Türkmen over the case of Gharavi, saying it was "worried" about the accusations against him.

During the July 15 botched putsch last year, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Ankara has since accused Gulen of having orchestrated the coup. The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the Judiciary. 

This file photo shows Turkish cleric and opposition figure Fethullah Gülen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, the United States. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Additionally, the Ankara government has outlawed his movement, and has branded it as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). 

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

“Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless and politically motivated slanders,” he said.

The 76-year-old cleric has also called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he said is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of.

Turkey, which remains in a state of emergency since the coup, has been engaged in suppressing the media and opposition groups suspected to have played a role in the failed coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. More than 110,000 others, including military staff, civil servants and journalists have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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