The head of Amnesty International urged world leaders on Saturday to stand up to “hyper-nationalist” democratically elected leaders in countries including Turkey, where authorities have detained the local director and chair of the rights group.
Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty was in Hamburg to lobby G20 leaders to help secure the release of the pair, who are among thousands detained in a crackdown that followed a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.
“The country is in a serious human rights crisis,” Shetty said. “It is impossible for the G20 on the one hand to say it upholds values of democracy and free speech and on the other ignore blatant violations of human rights.”
Shetty said Erdogan, who is attending the summit of the world’s 20 largest economies, was one of a new breed of “hyper-nationalist” democratically elected authoritarians who use repressive measures to boost their popularity at home.
“We’ve had dictatorships before, but in the case of Turkey, (Prime Minister Viktor) Orban in Hungary or (President Rodrigo) Duterte in the Philippines, these are legitimately elected leaders, so we are in a different space now.”
All three leaders, who have won national elections in polls that independent observers have judged as flawed but broadly fair, have vehemently denied widespread accusations of authoritarianism.
“There are hyper-nationalist countries where they take measures and the domestic support increases,” he said. “The global system is challenged by this: free press, rule of law, the things we’ve taken for granted for 50 years.”
Idil Eser, Amnesty’s Turkey director, was arrested on Wednesday along with several other activists.
His detention came less than a month after a court ordered the arrest of the chairman of the branch, Taner Kilic. They are accused of links to the “terrorist organization” on which Ankara blames the July 2016 coup attempt.
Most western countries have criticized Turkey’s crackdown, with many saying Erdogan is using it as an excuse to rid himself of domestic opponents wholesale. But responses have been muted, since Turkey plays a crucial buffer role preventing a destabilizing flood of Syrian refugees from reaching Europe.
“The Syrian refugee situation has really compromised EU leaders,” Shetty said. “He’s getting away with it.”
Erdogan was himself the subject of an Amnesty human rights campaign when, as mayor of Istanbul in 1998, he upset authorities by publicly reading a poem and was detained. Amnesty campaigned for his release. (Courtesy Reuters)