Foreigners among 29 Daesh suspects detained in Istanbul for ‘planning attack’

:: Anti-terror officers in Istanbul detained 29 suspected members of Daesh, while UN feared a “significant risk of torture” against senior rights activists including a regional director of Amnesty International who were arrested in Turkey this week.

At least 22 foreigners, who were allegedly preparing a “sensational attack” in Turkey, were among those detained in overnight raids, the Istanbul police headquarters said Friday, without giving details of their nationalities.

Police seized several electronic devices and one gun during the operation.

The 29 detained, many of whom had fought in war zones, were part of a Daesh cell about to commit a “sensational attack” in Turkey, police said without giving further details.

Turkish police on Wednesday detained six suspected members of Daesh planning a bomb attack on an opposition protest march led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

He is on the final stage of a 450-km “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul to protest over the legal system under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish border had previously been a key transit point for Daesh recruits and supplies before Turkey tightened security and launched a military operation to clear the militants from its southern border last August.

Turkey suffered a series of terror attacks in 2016 and one in 2017 blamed on Daesh.

The Daesh-claimed last attack was executed during New Year’s celebrations at the elite Istanbul nightclub Reina when a gunman killed 39 people.

Meanwhile, senior rights activists including Amnesty’s regional director, Idil Eser, face a week in detention on suspicion of terrorist group membership after being taken on Wednesday from a training workshop they were holding at a hotel on Buyukada, an island just south of Istanbul.

“We are gravely concerned about all arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Turkey,” a UN human rights spokesman said.

Elizabeth Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a regular UN briefing in Geneva: “We fear they are now at significant risk of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” she said of the eight Turkish human rights activists and two foreign trainers — a German and a Swedish national — held this week.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture who made an official visit to Turkey last December, had “found evidence of widespread abuse, particularly during initial detention,” Throssell said, adding: “So that underscores our fear there.”

Turkish authorities have repeatedly denied accusations of torture while saying a firm security stance is needed in the face of dangers it faces from Kurdish militants as well as wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Throssell said the Ankara government seemed to have criminalized the legitimate exercise of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression under the state of emergency imposed after an attempted coup in July 2016.

The detentions, which Amnesty called a “grotesque abuse of power,” came less than a month after a court ordered the arrest of the chairman of Amnesty’s Turkey branch on the same charge.

Over the past year, Turkey has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.

There were concerns regarding their access to lawyers, Throssell said. People on hunger strike are among “nearly 150,000 people arbitrary dismissed” since the coup attempt, she said. “So we’re talking big numbers here with regard to human rights defenders and to people who have been sacked.”

The purge has alarmed Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups, who say the government has used the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent. Ankara has said the security measures are needed because of the gravity of the threats confronting Turkey.

Separately, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, urged Ankara to immediately release those detained on Thursday and “stop all arbitrary interferences with the legitimate work of civil society.”

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