Turkey has shuttered several key children’s charities, human rights groups and women’s associations, in what a Human Rights Watch researcher called on Monday an “alarming” development that could signal a new wave of crackdowns.
“The government just does not want any dissenting voices, no voices that conflict with its own,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, told dpa.
An order was issued Friday suspending the operations of some 370 non-profit organisations, allegedly as they have links to terrorism.
It comes as 10 members of parliament of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party are under arrest, more than 100 journalists are jailed, tens of thousands of civil servants have been fired and tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned since a failed coup.
The government blames the putsch attempt on followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric. Critics say the purge has spread to government critics and Kurdish groups, amid an uptick in violence in the mostly-Kurdish south-east.
Over the weekend, it emerged which charities are affected, including a women’s group in the Kurdish area of the country helping victims of domestic violence and Gundem Cocuk Dernegi (Children’s Agenda Association), a veteran Turkish society focused on child abuse.
“Their work has been very important in highlighting rights of children, children in conflict. They do vital work,” said Sinclair-Webb, cautioning this could be the opening salvo that “starts a whole new episode of cracking down on civil society.”
Also shut is the Contemporary Lawyers’ Association (CHD), which is often critical of the government, focusing on investigating allegations of torture and providing legal aid.
“They have been playing a very important function in protecting the human rights of detainees,” said Sinclair-Webb. She noted that since the coup and a state of emergency, people can be held for up to five days without a lawyer and even then face restrictions on choosing an attorney.
Additionally, one of the groups shuttered, at least temporarily, does humanitarian aid work, trying to bring basic supplies to Kurdish areas of northern Syria badly hit by conflict, including in battles against Islamic State.
“The groups do have a political colouring in some ways. They may have a political perspective, but that does not make them guilty of crimes,” she noted. “According to the new narrative everyone the government doesn’t like is connecting to terrorism.”