Turkish opposition groups protested on Saturday in Istanbul after the Interior Ministry halted operations for 370 civic groups on terrorism-related charges – organisations that included professional associations and women’s and children’s rights groups.
The organisations were told about the government decision on Friday evening, when police raids shut down their offices and collected their records.
The Interior Ministry said 153 of the organisations had alleged ties to the Gulen network, 190 to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, eight to the Islamic State group and 19 to the banned far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C.
Lawyers at the left-wing People’s Law Bureau resisted the raid, and their door was later broken down by armed special forces who cleared the offices, detained four lawyers and changed the office’s locks. The four were released on Saturday morning.
The Progressive Lawyers’ Association, which was also shut down and whose members work at the People’s Law Bureau, said it was not subject to such an order due to legislation protecting lawyers.
Nergis Aslan, general secretary of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association, told The Associated Press the Turkish government gave no explanation for the shutdown.
“There is serious suppression against any form of oppositional organisation, association or any sort of group. We were expecting it,” she said.
Turkey has come under intense criticism from opposition groups and its allies over its crackdown on dissenting voices during the state of emergency declared after the July 15 coup.
Close to 37,000 people have been arrested, more than 100,000 people dismissed or suspended from government jobs, and 170 media outlets and scores of businesses and associations have been shut down over alleged ties to terrorist organisations.
Critics note that the purge, initially meant to eliminate the Gulen network that the government accuses of staging the coup, has since been extended to other opponents of the government, including pro-Kurdish and left-wing individuals.
Mehmet Onur Yilmaz of children’s rights organisation Gundem Cocuk said they were not given a reason either for their shutdown but noted that his group had filed annual reports on child abuse, warning the government of its shortcomings.
“We would like a Turkey where none of that exists of course, but what they want is a Turkey where none of this is visible,” he added.
Deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the closures on Saturday, saying Turkey has to take measures against multiple terror threats.
“Yes, we are in a period of state of emergency, but we are acting within the legal limits afforded us by the state of emergency,” he said, adding that any mistakes would be rectified.
In the German city of Cologne, 20,000 protesters marched on Saturday against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s crackdown on dissent.