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LONDON: Amnesty International has slammed Turkey over “systemic human rights abuses” and urged Ankara to free two high-profile political prisoners the rights group said have been unjustly detained for years.

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In a statement issued on Friday, Amnesty condemned Turkey’s imprisonment of philanthropist Osman Kavala and opposition politician Selahattin Demirtaş. 

“Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş have been arbitrarily and unjustly deprived of their liberty for years, despite the binding court decisions that they be released,” the rights group said. 

The European Court of Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory, has ruled that both prisoners should be freed — a judgment ignored by Ankara.

“Their continued detention makes a mockery of President Erdogan’s government’s attempts to whitewash systemic human rights abuses by unveiling a meaningless human rights action plan last week,” said Amnesty.

“This action plan and Turkey’s generic platitudes cannot hide the reality: The ongoing imprisonment of these two men, and scores of others, for simply exercising their rights shows that in Turkey, freedom of expression is ruthlessly punished.” 

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The issue is the latest in a series of diplomatic and political spats that have caused a marked decline in Turkey-EU relations.

Amnesty said: “It is high time that states across Europe tell Turkey that prosecuting and imprisoning people for political reasons is unacceptable.”

In recent years, Turkey has drawn increasingly sharp criticism over its declining human rights record.

Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said: “Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis over the past four years with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework.”

The rights group added: “A rise in allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison over the past four years has set back Turkey’s earlier progress in this area.”

The Turkish judiciary, in particular, has been a target of sustained criticism.  

HRW said: “Executive control and political influence over the judiciary in Turkey has led to courts systematically accepting bogus indictments, detaining and convicting without compelling evidence of criminal activity individuals and groups the Erdogan government regards as political opponents.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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