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Turkey’s dark days: arrests and persecution after the courthouse attack

The author: Eliana Riva

90 detained on trumped-up charges. Among them also torture victim activist Ayten Öztürk

More than 90 people arrested, police raids on law offices and association headquarters, demands for heavy sentences for political opponents and their lawyers.

The Republic of Turkey, which only a few months ago celebrated its first century of life, is facing one of the darkest periods of repression. Among those arrested is Ayten Öztürk, the Alevi revolutionary who reported that she was tortured for six months in a secret detention centre. We interviewed her last March from her home in Istanbul, where she had been under house arrest for about two years, and met her again in November.

ON 6 FEBRUARY two attackers and a civilian were killed at the Çaglayan court following an armed attack. Since then, the police have been targeting groups and individuals believed to be close to the People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front Party (Dhkp-C). No official claim was ever made, but the government believes that the man and woman who attempted the armed action at the courthouse, the purpose and method of which are still unclear, were members of the Marxist-Leninist political formation considered a ‘terrorist organisation’ in Turkey. Yesterday, the group claimed responsibility for the action, stating, however, that the goal was not to enter the courthouse and that the police fired when its two members were not armed.

Lawyers who had previously worked in the defence of one of those involved in the attack were even accused of complicity in the attack. The People’s Law Office, a firm of dozens of lawyers, was attacked by the police who searched and partly destroyed it. The same fate befell the Idil Cultural Centre, home of the politically committed music band Grup Yorum. Here, musical instruments, bathrooms, furniture and the kitchen were destroyed. Worse damage was done to the headquarters of the Tayad association, formed by relatives of political opponents held in Turkish prisons. The members of Tayad are mostly elderly, sometimes sick people who have children, husbands, wives in prisons, sentenced to heavy sentences, often on specious charges.

Ten members of Grup Yorum have been arrested, bringing to sixteen the total of the group’s musicians currently in prison. Seventeen if we also count those detained in Germany under the political cooperation agreements signed with Turkey. Among the detained Tayad members are also over 80 years old. Hasan Basri, a member of the association, told us that the homes of Tayad families are very often the target of police raids, which usually break in during the night to search and arrest.
As happened repeatedly to Ayten Öztürk. She too was taken to prison, her house damaged, cupboards smashed, bookcases knocked over, windows broken. Ayten told us that she was kidnapped in 2018 by the Turkish secret service while at Beirut airport in Lebanon, where she was on a stopover on her way to Greece. For six months, none of her family or friends knew where she was.

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