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Turkey

Turkey closes lawyers' groups as thousands languish in jail in post-coup crackdown

Turkey has closed 370 associations, including two lawyers' groups defending human rights and civil liberties. The closures raise the question of who will be left to defend people in courts amid a government crackdown.

Turkish authorities ordered the suspension of 370 associations on Friday, including two prominent lawyers' groups, in the latest blow to civil society and democracy under sweeping emergency powers granted in the wake of July's failed coup bid.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement the 370 associations "threatened national security" with their ties to terrorist organizations and were closed to protect "security, law and order and public peace."

Among the associations ordered to close were the Progressive Lawyers Association (CHD) and Liberal Lawyers Association (OHD), some of whose members are already facing trial on terror related charges. The two legal associations are active defenders of human rights and civil liberties, and represent those charged under Turkey's broad anti-terror laws. Another organization supporting the families of the arrested and convicted people was also closed.

The Interior Ministry said 153 associations were closed for ties to the Gulen movement, which the government blames for orchestrating the failed coup attempt in July. Another 190 organizations were closed for ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), 19 for ties to the far-left DHKP-C and another eight for relations with the so-called "Islamic State."

The Progressive Lawyers Association and Liberal Lawyers Association said on Twitter the government's closure order was valid for three months. The Progressive Lawyers Association said police "violently" entered their office in Ankara, putting guns to the heads of several members as they were put under arrest. Police then proceeded to examine legal files in violation of the law, the group said.

Both legal organizations said they would not bow down to the government's "fascism," as other lawyers' groups across the country vowed to come to their defense.

Ahmet Ozmen, the head of the Diyarbakir bar association in the predominately Kurdish southeast, said on Twitter: "Closing down associations within the scope of emergency powers is an unacceptable interference against democracy, civil society and the right to organize."

Since the failed coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used emergency powers to purge the military, bureaucracy, media and education sector of alleged followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for orchestrating the coup. More than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended for suspected Gulenist ties, and thousands more have been arrested.

The purge against suspected Gulenists has since morphed into a broader assault on the opposition, civil society and media.

Earlier this month, the leaders of the country's Kurdish opposition, People's Democratic Party (HDP), and some of its members in parliament were arrested over alleged support for the PKK, which has waged a three-decades-long armed struggle for Kurdish rights. The HDP says 6,000 of its members have been detained since the July coup.

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'We cannot accept Turkey moving to dictatorship'

The extent of the post-coup crackdown has been met with concern in the European Union, which issued a damning report on the deterioration of rights and democracy in Turkey this week. In some corners of Europe, there are growing calls for the EU to halt accession negotiations with Ankara. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to arrive in Turkey on Tuesday amid tense relations between the two countries.

"We must ask if the Turkish government's approach is compatible with the minimum standards of the rule of law," Steinmeier told the German parliament on Thursday.

"When the existence of civil society is threatened, then democracy is also threatened," Steinmeier said, adding that the German government would put forward a series of measures to support civil society and media in the country.

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