ISTANBUL: Turkish police have detained 13 people for chanting a slogan at a Women’s Day protest, authorities said on Thursday, and an opposition lawmaker said they were held for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan, a week after he vowed to boost free speech.
Prosecutors ordered the arrests after reviewing a video of a group chanting at a march in Istanbul on March 8, the local governor’s office said. Out of 18 people identified, 13 have so far been detained, including a minor, it said in a statement.
Last week, Erdogan said his government would promote freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial under an “action plan” that critics said failed to address concerns about an erosion of human rights in Turkey.
“We condemn the holding of an operation at this time of night against women’s rights defenders on an accusation like insulting the president,” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas said in parliament overnight.
Erdogan has faced accusations at home and abroad of increasingly autocratic rule, and Bestas said the suspects had been detained for chanting the slogan – used in past anti-government protests – “jump up, jump up, the one who doesn’t jump up is Tayyip”.
A police report seen by Reuters showed the detained women had been asked about another chant: “Tayyip flee, flee, flee, the women are coming.”
The Progressive Lawyers Association said on Twitter that 12 women had been detained in house raids on suspicion of insulting the president.
“So much for last week’s human rights action plan claiming to limit such arrests ‘outside working hours’,” Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb wrote on Twitter.
Critics say Erdogan’s government applies political pressure on the judiciary, which has prosecuted thousands of Ankara‘s perceived opponents since a failed military coup in 2016.
The government says its actions are to protect national security and says that Turkish courts are independent.