Turkish police have detained 13 academics, activists and journalists over links to a jailed businessman and human rights defender, and allegations that they sought to topple the government by supporting mass protests during 2013, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Friday.
Anadolu Agency said professors Betul Tanbay and Turgut Tarhanli of Istanbul’s Bosphorus and Bilgi universities, and journalist Cigdem Mater were among those detained in simultaneous police operations in Istanbul and in three provinces.
They were being questioned over their links to the Anatolia Culture Association founded by Osman Kavala, a philanthropist businessman who was arrested a year ago and accused of attempts to “abolish” the constitutional order and the government. No indictment has been issued against him.
Anadolu said police are searching for seven other people linked to the association, which says it aims to promote peace and minority rights through culture.
The group is suspected of trying to bring down the government by fomenting “chaos and disorder” through their alleged involvement in efforts to expand anti-government protests that grew from opposition to the cutting down of trees at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Authorities suspect that Kavala used the association, as well as a foundation that he also headed, to finance and organize efforts to broaden the protests, the agency reported.
The detentions drew criticism from the European Union, which called the development “alarming,” and from human rights groups.
“The repeated detentions of critical voices and the continued widespread pressure on civil society representatives run counter to the Turkish government’s declared commitment to human rights and to fundamental freedoms,” the EU said a statement.
The statement said the detentions would be raised during a high-level EU visit to Ankara next week.
Amnesty International’s Turkey Strategy and Research Manager Andrew Gardner said: “This latest wave of detentions of academics and activists, on the basis of absurd allegations, shows that the authorities are intent on continuing their brutal crackdown of independent civil society.”
Since an attempted coup in 2016, Turkey’s government has been accused of stifling freedom of expression by arresting thousands of people for alleged connections to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the failed attempt, or links to terror groups. It has purged many more people from state institutions and jailed dozens of journalists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called Kavala “Turkey’s Soros,” a reference to American billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations have funded education, health, justice and media projects around the world. Pro-government media in Turkey accuse Kavala of engaging in anti-government conspiracies.
Eleven prominent activists, including Amnesty International’s former Turkey chairman, were arrested last year at their hotel on an island off of Istanbul while training. They were eventually released from jail pending the outcome of their trial for supporting terror groups.
Separately on Friday, police detained 86 people, most of them former Air Force personnel, in operations across Turkey and were looking for 100 others for alleged links to Gulen’s movement, Anadolu reported.
More than 15,000 people have been purged from the military since the coup, Turkey’s defense minister has said.
The cleric denies involvement in the coup.