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Turkey detains 12 at human rights meeting in island hotel: media

By Daren Butler and Can Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police have detained 11 people including the local director of Amnesty International and other rights activists on an island near Istanbul, Amnesty said on Thursday in what it branded a "grotesque abuse of power".

The detentions came less than a month after a court ordered the arrest of the chairman of Amnesty's Turkey branch, Taner Kilic, on charges of "membership of a terrorist organization" in a crackdown following an attempted military coup in July 2016. Kilic remains in jail pending trial.

Amnesty Turkey Director Idil Eser and the others were removed from a meeting they were holding at a hotel on Buyukada, an island just south of Istanbul, and taken to various police stations across Istanbul on Wednesday evening, a lawyer for some of the detainees, Bahri Belen, told Reuters.

Belen said prosecutors had decided on a seven-day detention period, which needs to be approved by a judge, and that the reason for the detentions had still not been disclosed to the lawyers by the police or the local prosecutor's office.

Police were not immediately available for comment, but Belen said an explanation might come on Friday when the activists are transferred from their respective police stations to Istanbul's police headquarters.

Amnesty called for the group's release, saying it was "profoundly disturbed and outraged" at the detentions during a workshop on digital security and information management.

Among those detained with Eser were seven human rights defenders, two foreign trainers – a German and a Swedish national – as well as the hotel owner, Amnesty's statement said.

"This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country," said Amnesty's Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Since the failed putsch a year ago, 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.

The purge, which has also led to the closure of some 130 media outlets and jailing of 150 journalists, has alarmed Turkey's Western allies and rights groups, who say President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, visiting Turkey to discuss its performance in European Union accession talks, said he had raised the detentions with Turkish officials.

"... (But) I didn't get a sufficient answer about it. We will continue to follow this," he told a news conference at Ankara airport.

Hahn also said he had stressed the need for Turkey to respect the rule of law and the right of people to a fair trial.

More than 240 people were killed in last year's coup attempt, and the government has said the security measures are necessary because of the gravity of the threats facing Turkey.

Amnesty Turkey's chairman was detained in early June with 22 other lawyers over alleged links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)