UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan condemned Turkey’s Tuesday mass arrest of at least 150 people in the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakır (Amed), calling the incident “deeply disturbing”.
“Too often vague, overly broad anti-terrorism and other criminal laws are misused against journalists,” Khan said in a tweet.
PEN International Europe and Central Asia chief Aurélia Dondo also called the arrests “deeply shocking”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb said the arrest of Kurdish journalists and lawyers was “clearly an abuse of powers and intimidation tactic before election”.
The HRW, “absent any credible evidence of wrongdoing”, called for the release of the dozens of detainees in a joint statement by 18 organisations.
“Stop the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish journalists, media workers, media outlets, the lawyers that defend them, and Kurdish political party officials, give them access to legal counsel, disclose full details of charges brought and to ensure that they are released from detention,” the organisations said in their statement.
Turkey will hold critical elections on 14 May, when two decades of Justice and Development Party (AKP) supermajority in parliament could end, according to opinion polls, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could lose to main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Tuesday’s arrests exacerbate concerns over fair elections, as many of the detainees were civil society actors who have been involved in ballot security in past elections, as well as grassroots activists who would keep watch at individual ballots throughout Kurdish majority electoral districts.
The two major currents in the east and southeast of the country are AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the latter of which will not be able to have officials at election sites as it is running under Green Left Party (YSP) lists.
Those arrested include “lawyers who could keep an eye on election security, independent journalists who may report voter fraud, YSP election campaign managers and printers who work with a political party’s election campaign”, HDP Europe said in a statement.