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Turkey detains two academics and ten others for 'organising Gezi protests'

A police list seen by MEE shows that one of the suspects was detained in part for being married to an opposition journalist
More than 20 people died in 2013 during protests centred around Istanbul's Gezi Park against the government (AFP)

Two prominent academics are among 12 people to have been detained overnight by Turkish police over allegations that they helped finance and organise the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013.

The individuals were detained as part of an ongoing investigation into the leading rights activist and businessman Osman Kavala and his Anadolu Culture Foundation, state media said on Friday.

Kavala was jailed pending trial a year ago, as part of an investigation into the network Ankara accuses of carrying out the failed coup of 2016. He has still not been charged with an offence.

Among the detainees were staff of the Anadolu Culture Foundation, which aims to overcome differences within Turkish society through culture and the arts, and the Turkish head of the Open Society Foundation, which is funded by Hungarian-American investor, philanthropist and recurrent target of right-wing conspiracy theories George Soros.

Three of the 12 detained have been released on condition that they cannot leave the country, Middle East Eye's reporter from Turkey said.

Among those released is the dean of the Bilgi law school. The other two remain unidentified.

A statement from the Turkish public prosecution office said those detained had financed and organised the Gezi protests, which took place between May and August 2013, by using the two foundations.

It claimed the suspects were aiming to create chaos and overturn the Turkish government by applying violence and force.

The statement said that to carry out this aim, the suspects brought civil disobedience activist trainers from abroad, spread propaganda in the press and organised a campaign to stop tear gas imports to Turkey.

More than 20 people died during the protests, centred around Istanbul's Gezi Park, which saw thousands of people take to the streets to demonstrate against the policies of the government. 

The two academics detained on Friday were named as Turgut Tarhanli, dean of the law faculty at Istanbul Bilgi University, and mathematics professor Betul Tanbay of Bogazici University, who was elected this year as vice president of the European Mathematical Society.

A police list of the detainees seen by Middle East Eye named one of the suspects as Meltem Aslan Cellikkan, general coordinator of the Anadolu Culture Foundation and founding member of the Justice and Memory Centre Foundation.

The list noted that Cellikkan was "married to opponent journalist Murat Celikkan", but the reference to the marriage was removed when the public prosecutor's office made its official press statement.

The state-owned Anadolu news agency said Istanbul prosecutors had in total sought the detention of 20 suspects and that police had carried out simultaneous raids at various addresses.

Criticising the detentions on Twitter, the opposition CHP party MP Sezgin Tanrikulu said: "Again a Friday, again detentions... Those who expect normalisation from this regime should continue to dream."

A screen featuring jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala at a press conference held by his lawyers on 31 October 2018 (Ozan Kose / AFP)

Metin Feyzioglu, chairman of the Turkish Bar Association, said in a written statement he was monitoring developments with concern.

"The violation of basic rights and freedoms by the hand of the judiciary must not be allowed," he said.

"All illegal practices which will harm Turkey in the international community must be brought to an end."

A public prosecution note seen by Middle East Eye on Friday said that in order to keep the Gezi Park protests alive, Kavala had discussions with the Open Society Foundation, the UK's Guardian Foundation and an unnamed German foundation regarding setting up a TV channel and website to support them.

Kavala appeal

Kavala, a philanthropist and co-founder of the Iletisim publishing house, is well-known in intellectual circles in Turkey and abroad.

According to his lawyers, Turkish authorities suspect him of having links to the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, as well as financing the Gezi protest movement in 2013.

Human rights groups and European Parliament members have repeatedly called for Kavala's release and an indictment against him has yet to be issued.

In a statement marking one year since he was remanded in custody, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch renewed calls at the end of October for Kavala's immediate and unconditional release.

Since the attempted coup in July 2016, Turkey has jailed 77,000 people pending trial, as well as suspending or dismissing 150,000 civil servants and military personnel and shutting down dozens of media outlets.

Police still frequently carry out operations targeting the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement.

Anadolu said on Friday that prosecutors had issued an order for the arrest of 188 people, including 100 former air force personnel, over links to Gulen's network.

So far, 86 suspects have been detained in the operation.