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Turkey detains Amnesty chief after court orders release

Taner Kilic had been granted conditional release after spending eight months in detention
A group of human rights activists gather outside the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul (AFP)

Turkish police took back into custody the head of rights group Amnesty International in Turkey, hours after an Istanbul court ordered his conditional release, the rights group said on Thursday.

Taner Kilic has been held since June 2017, when he was detained on suspicion of being part of the group led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kilic has consistently denied the claims, while Amnesty has branded them as "baseless".

The Turkish authorities refers to the Gulen movement as a "terrorist organisation" but Gulen strongly denies any link to the coup bid. 

Kilic's supporters were relieved on Wednesday when the Istanbul court ordered his release from a jail in the Aegean city of Izmir under judicial control. 

But hours later, a new arrest warrant was issued for Kilic, and he was taken back into custody, Amnesty said.

"We flew to Izmir and drove to the prison, hoping to witness Taner's release with his family. Instead, around midnight, Amnesty International witnessed Taner being taken from the Izmir prison into gendarmerie custody in a station nearby," Amnesty's Europe director, Gauri van Gulik, said on Twitter.

'Odd legal manoeuvres'

Gulik said Kilic's lawyers discovered the prosecutor had appealed the court's decision.

While the Istanbul court rejected the appeal, it nonetheless sent the application to another court for a decision on Kilic's detention.

"While no formal decision was communicated to lawyers, gendarmerie said there is an arrest warrant out for him," she said.

Gulik denounced the "odd legal manoeuvres... used to keep him behind bars", adding that Kilic would be taken to court later on Thursday for a ruling.

Kilic had been on trial along with 10 other rights activists including Amnesty's Turkey director, Idil Eser, German activist Peter Steudtner and Swedish colleague Ali Gharavi. 

The other 10 were all released last year though their trial continues, with the next hearing set for 21 June.

The 10 are accused of links to Gulen and other outlawed groups including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against Turkey.

Following the 2016 failed coup, Turkey introduced a state of emergency which was renewed last month for the sixth time. 

More than 55,000 people have been taken into custody over suspected links to Gulen and for alleged support for "terrorism" under the state of emergency.

Amnesty's researcher on Turkey, Andrew Gardner, said ahead of the Wednesday verdict that the human rights environment "continues to be as bad or worse than before" in Turkey and that Kilic's case was "not unique".

"Human rights defenders are on trial in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Istanbul and elsewhere," he told AFP. 

"The overall environment is of course very negative and in these cases it is very hard to believe that a fair trial will be respected."

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