Un­prece­dented de­ten­tions in Turkey

When he vis­its, Mr. Tiller­son should dis­cuss Ankara’s as­sault on dis­sent.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE 260-mile trek from Ankara to Is­tan­bul is a gru­el­ing jour­ney through rough ter­rain and scorch­ing heat, but this hasn’t stopped more than 10,000 demon­stra­tors from set­ting out on an am­bi­tious march for “jus­tice.” For the past three weeks, op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers have walked for about 12 miles a day to protest Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s un­re­lent­ing crack­down on dis­sent. An­other leader would have looked at this groundswell of pub­lic out­rage and re­frained from per­se­cut­ing crit­ics. Mr. Er­do­gan went in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion: On Wed­nes­day, Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties de­tained two for­eign train­ers and eight hu­man rights ac­tivists — one of whom is the coun­try di­rec­tor of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

Last month, we crit­i­cized Mr. Er­do­gan for the ar­bi­trary im­pris­on­ment of Taner Kilic, the chair­man of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Turkey. By de­tain­ing his col­league Idil Eser, Turkey has done some­thing un­prece­dented: Amnesty In­ter­na­tional tells us that this is the first time in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s his­tory that a di­rec­tor and a chair from a sin­gle coun­try are be­hind bars at the same time. But Mr. Er­do­gan’s sweep­ing as­sault on dis­si­dents and civil so­ci­ety is much larger than th­ese two ar­rests: In April, it was es­ti­mated that more than 110,000 peo­ple have been de­tained since a failed coup at­tempt in 2016, and nearly 50,000 of th­ese de­tainees have been charged with crimes. Th­ese num­bers have con­tin­ued to rise in the past three months.

Mr. Er­do­gan should not be al­lowed to im­prison his crit­ics with im­punity. Though the march from Ankara is an en­cour­ag­ing sign that op­po­si­tion forces are still able to or­ga­nize, they can­not be ex­pected to stand up to their re­pres­sive gov­ern­ment alone. For­eign gov­ern­ments need to ap­ply pres­sure on Turkey to end its at­tack on civil so­ci­ety and re­lease those who were ar­bi­trar­ily de­tained. This in­cludes Mr. Kilic and Ms. Eser, and also Enis Ber­beroglu, an op­po­si­tion par­lia­ment mem­ber, and many more jour­nal­ists, hu­man rights ac­tivists, lawyers and aca­demics.

It was heart­en­ing to see the State De­part­ment im­me­di­ately is­sue a state­ment re­buk­ing Turkey for th­ese un­war­ranted de­ten­tions, but the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has ig­nored such state­ments be­fore. The United States needs to send a stronger mes­sage to Mr. Er­do­gan and other for­eign lead­ers who con­tinue to stomp on hu­man rights. For a start, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son should put this is­sue at the top of his agenda when he vis­its Turkey on Sun­day and Mon­day.


Peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in day 23 of a “Jus­tice March” in Is­tan­bul on Fri­day.

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