Turkey frees academics after controversial raids over jailed activist

Turkey frees academics after controversial raids over jailed activist
After protestations from the US and EU, Turkey has released prominent academics and civil society activists arrested in a police sweep on Friday.
2 min read
17 November, 2018
Police raids targeted suspects with links to jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala [File photo: Getty]

Turkish police Saturday freed eight academics and activists detained the day earlier in hugely controversial raids on suspects allegedly linked to a prominent financier of civil society activities jailed for the past year.

The United States and EU had expressed concern over Friday's detentions, which targeted academics and activists deemed to have ties to the philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala.

Turkish prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 20 people, with 14 suspects rounded up in the raids. However eight of those detained were freed on Saturday after giving testimony to police while six were still being questioned, the DHA news agency reported.

DHA did not give the identities of those released. 

But they included the prominent mathematician Professor Betul Tanbay of Bogazici University, according to the European Mathematical Society which had recently elected her as vice president. 

Professor Turgut Tarhanli, Professor of Law and Human Rights at private Bilgi University, was also among those released, NTV television said.

Kavala is chairman of the Anadolu Kultur (Anatolian Culture) foundation which aims to overcome differences within Turkish society through culture and the arts, has sought to reach out to neighbouring Armenia. 

All suspects, including those released, remain accused of "creating chaos and mayhem" and "seeking to overthrow the government" in 2013 anti-government protests triggered by the planned development of Istanbul's Gezi Park.

Kavala worked closely with foreign missions on civil society projects and his jailing has alarmed Turkey's Western allies as well raising concerns of a clampdown on freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington was "very concerned" by the arrests and urged Turkey to release all those held "arbitrarily".

"Transparency, rule of law, and freedom of expression and association are fundamental elements of every healthy democracy," she said in a statement.

EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic described the detentions as "alarming", adding that the "widespread pressure on civil society representatives" flew in the face of Turkey's declared commitment to human rights,

The operation also targeted Anadolu Kultur executives, including deputy chairman Yigit Ekmekci, board member Ali Hakan Altinay, coordinator Asena Gunal, and consultants Meltem Aslan and Cigdem Mater.

Kavala, who is regularly compared by pro-government Turkish media to liberal US billionaire George Soros was arrested on October 18, 2017. He was remanded in custody of seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.

Turkey has faced repeated criticism it is cracking down on opponents of Erdogan in civil society, in particular in the wake of the July 15, 2016 failed coup bid.