Three weeks before crucial elections, police sparked criticism by detaining more than 150 journalists, politicians, lawyers and activists in an operation covering 21 Turkish cities, allegedly for Kurdish militant links.
Turkish police on Tuesday detained more than 150 Kurdish journalists, politicians, lawyers and human rights activists in an operation in 21 cities, reportedly over links to militant groups.
The vice-president of Diyarbakir Bar Association Mehdi Ozdemir said on Tuesday morning that the operation, which was ordered by the Diyarbakir prosecutor’s office, was still ongoing as police continued to raid houses and offices.
“Detentions continue. Searches continue at the offices of many of our lawyer friends. No reason has been given so far. An operation aimed at people from various different occupations. There are artists, politicians, NGO representatives and lawyers among them,” Ozdemir told Amida News.
The Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency said that the operation was part of an investigation into the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK and Kurdistan Communities Union, KCK, but the police and Diyarbakir prosecutor’s office have given no information about the detentions so far.
Among the detainees are 11 journalists including Mesopotamia News Agency’s proprietor Ferhat Celik and editor Abdurrahman Gok, Yeni Yasam newspaper’s chief editor Osman Akin and Xwebun newspaper’s proprietor Kadri Esen.
Irene Khan, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, expressed corn about the arrests.
“Deeply disturbing news from Turkey… Too often vague overly broad antiterrorism & other criminal laws are misused against journalists,” Khan wrote on Twitter.
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP also condemned the operation targeting senior Kurdish figures, who included the party’s deputy co-chair Ozlem Gunduz and central board member Mahfuz Guleryuz.
“This operation is an operation to steal the ballot box and the will of the people,” the HDP said in a written statement underlining the timing of the operation – just three weeks before general and presidential elections on May 14.
Administrators from the Human Rights Association of Turkey, IHD were also detained by the police.
“These unlawful practices targeting [human rights] advocacy must come to an end, our branch managers and everyone who has been unjustly detained must be released as soon as possible,” the IHD wrote on Twitter.
The IHD and Diyarbakir Bar Association said that the detainees have been stripped of their rights to have a lawyer for 24 hours and a Diyabakir court has imposed restrictions on access to the investigation.
Operations are still ongoing across the country and the number of detainees are expected to increase during the day.