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Turkey jails academic after raids over Gezi Park protests

Yigit Aksakoglu remanded in custody after raids on professors and activists over claims they organised anti-government protests in 2013
A Turkish public prosecution office statement claimed the suspects were aiming to create chaos and overturn the Turkish government by applying violence and force (AFP)

A Turkish court on Sunday jailed pending trial an Istanbul academic following raids on professors and activists over allegations that they helped finance and organise the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013.

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

Turkish prosecutors issued warrants for the detention of 20 people, with 14 suspects rounded up in the raids.

Twelve of the suspects were released after giving testimony to police while one other is still being questioned.

But Yigit Aksakoglu, a staff member of Istanbul's private Bilgi University who specialises in education research, was remanded in custody ahead of trial, the NTV television channel and other Turkish media reported.

Those released included prominent mathematician Betul Tanbay of Bogazici University and Turgut Tarhanli, professor of law and human rights at Bilgi University.

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.

The United States and EU had expressed concern over Friday's detentions.

Among the detainees were also 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.

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.

'Turkey's Soros'

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.

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 on Friday.

A public prosecution note seen by MEE also 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.

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

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.

Kavala, who is regularly likened by pro-government Turkish media to Soros, was arrested on October 18, 2017.

He was remanded in custody on accusations of seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.