Erdogan regime’s detentions unlawful


Advertise with us

As Turkey continues to reel from the impact of last month’s earthquake, countries around the world continue to provide support to the Turkish people.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.


As Turkey continues to reel from the impact of last month’s earthquake, countries around the world continue to provide support to the Turkish people.

While this is happening, the people of Turkey face another struggle that merits our support: mass arbitrary detentions and other crimes against humanity perpetrated by the increasingly authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime.

These crimes have many victims. Erdogan’s repression of Kurds has been widely documented. Added to that is those who follow the teachings of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. They have faced discrimination for many years.

This discrimination intensified after July 2016, when Gülenists were accused by Erdogan of attempting a coup. The Gülen movement was criminalized by Erdogan as an “armed terrorist organization,” and Erdogan cracked down on all individuals and groups allegedly affiliated with the movement, under the guise of counterterrorism.

Whether there was actually a coup attempt by Gülenists or a coup fabrication to justify suppression of Gülenists has been a matter of debate. Regardless, coup or not, Erdogan’s crackdown is not justifiable.

Even if the coup attempt were real, and even if the actors in the coup were individuals associated with the Gülen movement, it does not follow that everyone who is a member of the movement was implicated in the coup attempt. To detain and repress all affiliated with the Gülen movement, in a systematic, widespread, often violent way, is a violation of multiple human rights.

The crackdown on individuals and groups allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement has been internationally condemned as overbroad and violating human rights, including by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Since July 2016, the Turkish government has detained more than 300,000 people, including thousands of prosecutors and judges, and shut down more than 2,000 institutions and 131 media outlets.

Turkey detained so many journalists that, for a time, they were the worst jailer of journalists in the world. There is evidence detainees are tortured and raped.

Many individuals with alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement are detained inappropriately and arbitrarily. Behaviours as simple as depositing money into an account in Bank Asya, which Turkey now believes is associated with the Gülen movement, or holding employment as a teacher in a Gülen-affiliated school, are used by the government to detain, arrest and convict innocents. These detentions and convictions have been found repeatedly by UN mechanisms, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, to be unlawful.

One of the latest examples is the continued detention of teacher Gülten Sayin, who has been imprisoned since December 2022. She is a teacher, not a terrorist — but she made deposits into an account at Bank Asya and held employment at a dormitory that was later shut down by the government in the context of its crackdown on the Gülen movement.

Gülten Sayin’s detention is arbitrary and unjust. And her case is made more distressing by the fact that her six-year-old son is currently undergoing chemotherapy for terminal, advanced-stage cancer. As a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Turkey is obligated to protect children’s rights, including their right to life and to health. By continuing to arbitrarily detain Gülten, Turkey is violating not only her rights, but also the rights of her child, Yusuf Sayin.

Last month, with our legal assistance, Gülten’s husband lodged a complaint against Turkey with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body that is empowered to order the government to release Gülten.

One day after our filing, Turkey permitted Gülten to spend a few days with her son at the hospital. This is encouraging, but not good enough.

Turkey should be pressed to release all detainees currently held without cause. With its people already suffering on multiple fronts, the last thing they need is to be victimized by their own government.

David Matas, based in Winnipeg, and Sarah Teich, based in Toronto, are international human rights lawyers.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us