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Amnesty director among six human rights activists held pending trial in Turkey

A Turkish court has jailed Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser and five other human rights activists pending trial for allegedly aiding an armed terror group.

They are the latest victims of a massive government crackdown initially launched against alleged supporters of last year's failed coup which has since broadened to include government opponents.

In a decision Amnesty International called a "crushing blow for rights in Turkey", the court in Istanbul also decided to release four other activists from custody pending the outcome of a trial, but barred them from travelling abroad.

They will also have to report regularly to police.

The 10 - seven human rights defenders and their German and Swedish trainers -were detained in a July 5 police raid on a hotel on the island of Buyukada, off Istanbul, where they were attending a digital security workshop.

It added to growing concerns over rights and freedoms in the country where the post-coup crackdown has resulted in more than 50,000 arrests and the dismissal of over 110,000 people from government jobs.

The crackdown has netted journalists, politicians and activists. Several media outlets and non-governmental organisations have been shut down.

"This is not a legitimate investigation, this is a politically motivated witch-hunt that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general.

"Today we have learnt that standing up for human rights has become a crime in Turkey. This is a moment of truth, for Turkey and for the international community."

Amnesty said the 10 are suspected of "committing crime in the name of a terrorist organisation without being a member".

Turkish media reports said prosecutors, requesting the arrests, presented as evidence records of their communications with suspects linked to Kurdish and left-wing militants as well as the movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating last year's failed coup attempt.

Amnesty said accusations against Ms Eser tried to link her to three terror organisations through her work with the advocacy group. Prosecutors had referred to two campaigns led by Amnesty, which were not authored by Amnesty Turkey, the rights group said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month rejected the label "activists" when asked about the 10, and made vague accusations, saying the group was involved in a meeting that had the "nature of a continuation" of the coup attempt.

Turkey says the crackdown is necessary to weed out Mr Gulen's followers amid a continued threat from his movement and to eradicate terror groups.

In April, Mr Erdogan won by a narrow majority a referendum on a series of constitutional amendments that increase the powers of his office with few checks and balances and abolish the position of prime minister, a development critics fear will lead Turkey towards authoritarian rule.

The European Parliament has advised the European Union to freeze accession talks with Turkey amid growing concerns over declining human rights, media freedoms and rule of law in Turkey.

AP

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