World News

Turkey court decides to release Amnesty International chief

Posted January 31, 2018 7:47 a.m. EST

— A court in Istanbul ordered the conditional release Wednesday of Amnesty International's chairman in Turkey after nearly eight months in custody, the rights group said.

The Amnesty official, Taner Kılıç, and 10 other human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey's director, İdil Eser, went on trial in October accused of aiding groups that Turkey describes as "armed terrorist organizations."

The court has decided to release Kılıç from custody, but the trial against the 11 on "trumped-up, terrorism-related charges" continues, Amnesty International said. The others were detained but released earlier.

The group said it would continue the fight to have all charges dropped against the activists and what it called "all the other innocent victims" caught up in a Turkish government crackdown.

Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people, including journalists, activists and opposition political figures, following an attempted military coup in 2016.

"It is an enormous relief that Taner will soon be back with his wife and daughters, sleeping in his own bed for the first time in almost eight months," said Amnesty International's Europe director Gauri van Gulik. "But we cannot forget that many other innocent people remain behind bars without a shred of evidence in Turkey.

"These unfounded prosecutions are an attempt to silence critical voices within Turkey but have only served to highlight the importance of human rights and those who dedicate their lives to defending them."

The 11 activists are accused of aiding the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK -- which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union -- and FETO, a term used by the Turkish government to describe supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey blames Gulen for orchestrating the attempted coup. Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States, has denied the accusations.

If convicted, the 11 could face jail terms of up to 15 years, Amnesty International said.

Kılıç was alleged to have downloaded and used the ByLock messaging app, which the prosecution has said members of the Gulen movement used to communicate, Amnesty International said.

However, the rights group said, two independent forensic analyses of Kılıç's phone commissioned by Amnesty had shown no evidence that the app was ever on his phone.