Turkey Arrests 'Innocent' British Ex-Soldier, Continues Detention Of 'Istanbul 10'

The Turkish government has arrested British ex-soldier Joe Robinson with charges of terrorism. The arrest comes after the Turkish government continues its crackdown on civilians and human rights workers, as it moves from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic.

Robinson, 24, was on holiday in the popular tourist town of Didim, on the south-west coast of Turkey. It has been reported that on July 22, armed police raided his hotel room and arrested the ex-soldier, his fiancé, and his mother in law. The government has since released his fiancé and her mother after six days of questioning.

The Turkish government has charged Robinson with being a member of US-backed People's Protection Units of Syrian Kurdistan (YPG), a group that is considered by the Turkish government to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), a rebel group that has waged an insurgency against the government for decades. The Turkish government has made it illegal for any person to be a member of either party. As a British soldier, Robinson had toured Afghanistan and Syria, where he served as a combat medic, helping in the fight against ISIS.

"It was just awful. They said someone had sent them an email saying we were terrorists about to do something in Turkey. That is complete rubbish. They said pictures on Facebook of Joe in Kurdish uniform proved he is a terrorist," Mira Rojkan, Robinson's fiancé, told The Guardian.

The arrest is a continuation of the Turkish government's crackdown on civilians that have been declared as suspected terrorists. On July 5, 2017, 10 human rights workers were arrested with similar charges on the island of Büyükada, near the capital city of Istanbul. Those already in prison are Özlem Dalkıran (Avaaz, Citizens' Assembly), İdil Eser (Turkish section of Amnesty International), Günal Kurşun (Human Rights Agenda Association), Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association) Ali Gharavi (IT strategy consultant) and Peter Steudtner (non-violence and wellbeing trainer). While four human rights defenders are being detained before going to trial are İlknur Üstün (Women's Coalition), Şeyhmus Özbekli (Rights Initiative), Nejat Taştan (Equal Rights Watch Association) and Nalan Erkem (Citizens Assembly). CNN reports that the human rights workers, who have become known as the "Istanbul 10", have been charged with "committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member."

The arrests come after a significant crackdown of both officials and civilians following the attempted coup in June, 2016. Since the coup, Turkey has arrested more than 50,000 people, fired over 100,000 officials, expropriated hundreds of companies, and closed over 100 media outlets, all because of alleged connections to the plotters. In April, Turkey held a controversial referendum that would allow the government to make amendments to the Turkish constitution and provide sweeping powers to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government won the referendum with a 1.25 million vote margin in its favor.

The Turkish government has suspected the human rights workers to be members of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization, named after its leader Muhammed Fethullah Gülen. Gülen was a former preacher who fled Turkey in 1999 and is suspected by the Turkish government to be the mastermind behind the attempted coup in 2016.

Turkish President Erdogan supporters hold up an effigy of Gulem
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold an effigy of Gulen [Image by Kursat Bayhan/Getty Images].

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was the first to speak out against the arrests as Turkey arrested German civilian and Human Rights trainer, Peter Studtner.

"We are firmly convinced that this arrest is absolutely unjustified. The German government will do all it can, on all levels, to secure his release, the German Chancellor said in a press briefing.

The foreign minister of Sweden, as well as leaders from the UK, the EU, and the European Commission, issued statements that condemned the arrests and urged the Turkish government to return to the "rule of law."

One of the arrested human rights workers is Özlem Dalkıran, one of Turkey's most prominent human rights activists and active member of international citizens groups avaaz.org and Citizens Assembly. Özlem has long been a campaigner for minority rights, especially for Armenian and Kurdish people, and a vehement supporter of Turkey's peace process with Kurdish groups, and a close friend of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, a leading voice for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation who was assassinated in 2007. Avaaz.org is holding a petition to help Ozlem be freed from prison by calling on the European Commission's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, to put pressure on the Turkish government to free her and the other detainees. As of writing, the petition has had close to a million signatures from people all over the world.

"The arrest of our colleague Özlem and her friends is the latest act in President Erdogan's terrible crackdown on Turkey's civil society. The EU shouldn't applaud that with economic favours -- Federica Mogherini must make it clear that jailing human rights activists is a red line for Europe's relationship with Turkey. These prisoners must be released and the spurious terrorism investigations into them dropped" Alex Evans, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said in a statement issued to the media.

Amnesty International is also holding a petition after the Turkish government imprisoned both its Turkey Director, Idil Eser, and Chair, Taner Kılıç.

"Federica Mogherini must use her influence to help ensure the release of our Amnesty International colleagues and the other human rights defenders jailed in Turkey" Amnesty International Secretary General, Salil Shetty, urged the European Commission's High Representative for Foreign Affairs to urgently raise the issue of jailed human rights defenders.

The two human rights groups recently organized protests across Europe to raise awareness of Turkeys actions. Demonstrators gathered outside Turkish embassies in Berlin, Paris, and London, as well as at the European Council in Brussels to call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders recently jailed by the Turkish government.

[Featured Image by Joseph Robinson/Facebook]