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NGOs demand release of Turkish activists held over Gezi protests

Ten organisations jointly call for immediate release of 16 activists accused of attempting to overthrow the government
Erdogan has accused Kavala of 'financing the terrorists' during the anti-government protests that broke out in 2013 (AFP)

Civil society groups have called on Turkey to release 16 people, including philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala, accused of attempting to overthrow the government, denouncing it as an "orchestrated campaign of intimidation".

Kavala has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year while activist Yigit Aksakoglu has been held for three months. 

Turkish philanthropist faces life in jail over 2013 Gezi Park protests
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They and others currently detained "should be immediately released," 10 Turkish and international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said in a joint statement in Istanbul on Wednesday.

"We, the undersigned organisations, stand united against these efforts to destroy independent civil society in Turkey, call for an end to the orchestrated campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment of civil society activists in Turkey," the NGOs said. 

The joint action comes a week after a prosecutor sought life in prison for Kavala and 15 others accused of links to 2013 anti-government protests against then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Erdogan, president since 2014, has openly accused Kavala of "financing the terrorists" during the mass protests that broke out following the government's plans to redevelop Istanbul's central Gezi park, but then spread all over Turkey.

US 'gravely concerned'

Kavala, a respected figure in intellectual circles in Turkey and abroad, has been kept in pre-trial custody since 1 November, 2017 at the Silivri prison outside Istanbul, the AFP news agency reported.

Erol Onderoglu, RSF representative in Turkey, said on Wednesday that levelling accusations of an attempt to topple the government against the activists "could only undermine confidence in the government".

The United States and the European Union have strongly criticised Ankara for indicting the civil society, media and business leaders. 

A State Department statement said on Saturday said that the US was "gravely concerned," urging Turkey to respect its citizens' freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly "and to release all those held arbitrarily."