Turkey detains 12 at human rights meeting in island hotel

Head of rights group Amnesty International, Idil Eser, and other rights activists were detained on Thursday

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ISTANBUL // Turkish police have detained 12 people including the local director of Amnesty International and other rights activists at a meeting on an island near Istanbul, media said on Thursday, in a move the rights group said was a "grotesque abuse of power".

The detentions came less than a month after a court jailed pending trial the chairman of Amnesty's Turkey branch, Taner Kilic, on charges of "membership of a terrorist organisation" in a crackdown after an attempted coup in July 2016.

Amnesty Turkey Director Idil Eser and the others were taken to a police station on Wednesday evening after gathering at a hotel on Buyukada, just south of Turkey's largest city, Hurriyet newspaper said. It was not clear why they were being held.

Amnesty called for the group's release, saying it was "profoundly disturbed and outraged" at the detentions during a digital security and information management workshop.

Police were not available to comment.

Among those detained with Mr Eser were seven human rights defenders, two foreign trainers — a German and a Swedish national — as well as the hotel owner, Amnesty's statement said.

"This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country," said Amnesty's Secretary General Salil Shetty.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, visiting Turkey to discuss Turkey's accession progress, said the detentions would form part of his discussions in Ankara.

"The arrest of people, for instance last night's arrests, we have to address these issues in friendship and mutual understanding. That's why we are here," he told reporters.

However, the European Parliament on Thursday advised the EU to freeze accession talks due to growing concerns over the Turkey's human rights and democracy. Turkey rejected the parliament's move, calling it an attempt to "sabotage" relations with the EU.

The legislature voted 477-64 with 97 abstentions to approve a non-binding report recommending the suspension of the negotiations in the wake Turkey's referendum in April that approved constitutional amendments to give the president sweeping new powers.

The parliament calls on the EU's 28 states to formally suspend the talks "without delay" if the constitutional reforms are implemented without change in Turkey.

Omer Celik, the Turkish minister in charge of relations with the EU, described it as being "a report geared toward sabotaging relations".

He said Turkey would consider the report "null and void" as it has previous European Parliament reports.

The EU has been concerned by declining human rights, media freedoms and rule of law issues in Turkey. Frequent comments by Mr Erdogan vowing to re-instate the death penalty have also raised alarm.

Since the failed putsch, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.

The purge has also led to the closure of some 130 media outlets and jailing of 150 journalists and has worried Turkey's Western allies and rights groups, who say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

More than 240 people were killed in the coup attempt, and the government has said the security measures are necessary because of the gravity of the threats facing Turkey.

Amnesty Turkey's chairman was detained in early June with 22 other lawyers over alleged links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup.