October 17, 2017 / 11:38 AM / 10 months ago

Turkey to try detained rights activists on Oct. 25 - Anadolu

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will put a group of human rights activists, including the local head of Amnesty International and nationals of Germany and Sweden, on trial on Oct. 25, state-run media said on Tuesday.

The detention in July of the activists has aggravated tensions between Turkey and European Union leaders, who fear that Ankara is sliding towards authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan.

A Turkish prosecutor called earlier this month for jail sentences of up to 15 years on terrorism charges for the activists, who were detained after attending a workshop on digital security on an island off Istanbul.

State-run Anadolu news agency said a Turkish court accepted the prosecutor’s indictment, setting the October date for the first hearing in Istanbul. It said the activists would be remanded in custody until the hearing.

Among those arrested were Amnesty International’s Turkey director, Idil Eser, German citizen Peter Frank Steudtner and Swedish citizen Ali Gharavi, who have been accused of being members of and aiding an “armed terrorist organisation”.

Shortly after they were detained, Germany said it was reviewing Turkey’s applications to buy weaponry from Germany. A cabinet minister in Berlin compared Ankara’s behaviour to that of the former Communist East Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that Turkey’s 12-year journey to join the European Union should be halted, although Ankara has said it remains determined to press on with its accession process.

Erdogan’s government says EU critics of the court case - and of the wider security crackdown in Turkey since last year’s failed military coup - do not understand the scale of the challenges facing Turkey.

More than 50,000 people have been detained since the abortive coup and 150,000 people, including teachers, academics and lawyers, have been suspended from their jobs.

EU leaders will meet on Oct. 19 to address the deterioration in relations between Brussels and Ankara at a two-day summit, though Merkel said the leaders would stop short of drawing conclusions on Turkey’s longstanding bid to join the bloc.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Mark Heinrich

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