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US condemns Turkey's indictment of 16 civil society figures

Turkish prosecutors are seeking life sentences for 16 people involved in Istanbul's 2013 Gezi Park protests
Demonstration on 31 May 2018 in Istanbul, marking fifth anniversary of start of Gezi Park protests (AFP/file photo)

The United States on Saturday condemned Turkey for indicting 16 civil society, media and business leaders involved in anti-government protests in 2013, saying the US was "gravely concerned".

"The ability to exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is fundamental to any healthy democracy," Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. "We urge Turkey to respect these freedoms and to release all those held arbitrarily," he said, quoted by Reuters.

He urged Turkey to respect its citizens' freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly "and to release all those held arbitrarily."

Still, Turkish prosecutors are seeking life sentences, MEE reported earlier this week. The indictments stem from massive public protests in 2013. The 16 people are alleged to have used the protests as part of a plot to overthrow the government.

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Rights group Amnesty International dismissed the allegations against the 16 as an "outlandish" attempt to "silence some of Turkey's most prominent civil society figures," AFP reported.

According to the indictment, the defendants had prepared for the Gezi Park protests since 2011 and were "top management" organisers, MEE reported, including philanthropist Osman Kavala. Also indicted were Mucella Yapici, an architect; Tayfun Kahraman, a city planner, and Can Atalay, a lawyer, who were members of the Taksim Solidarity group that helped coordinate the protests.

State-run news service TRT said other defendants included well-known actor Mehmet Ali Alabora and journalist Can Dundar, who is currently living in exile in Germany after being tried in absentia for other cases.

A criminal court will decide whether the case should be brought to court after examining the indictment for about two weeks.

More than two million people took part in protests that year in and around Istanbul's Gezi Park - where the government infuriated many Turks with its plan to replace one of the city’s last green spaces with a replica of an Ottoman barracks.

Riot police ultimately stormed the park to oust demonstrators and bulldozed a tent camp that had sprung up. Scores of people were injured.