Turkish police hold eight pro-Kurdish lawyers in raid

1 / 2

A woman pushes a stoller past a Turkish soldier during clashes in central Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey on March 15, 2016

A woman pushes a stoller past a Turkish soldier during clashes in central Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey on March 15, 2016 (AFP Photo/Ilyas Akengin)

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish police detained eight lawyers on Wednesday as part of a crackdown on pro-Kurdish activists, their organisation said, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted to widen the definition of "terrorism" to include academics, journalists and other opponents.

The detentions follow the arrest of three Turkish academics on Tuesday on charges of "terrorist propaganda" for signing a petition condemning military actions in operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The arrests are part of a growing clampdown on opposition media and activists under Erdogan that has drawn only muted criticism from Europe, where Turkey is seen as crucial to resolving the migrant crisis.

Ankara is pressing Brussels for accelerated EU membership in return for stemming the flow of migrants across its territory to Europe.

A proposed deal is to be considered by a European summit on Thursday and Friday.

"Eight of our colleagues were arrested early this morning by police who gave no explanation," the pro-Kurdish Libertarian Lawyers' Association (OHO) organisation said on its Twitter account.

The OHO had submitted a petition asking Turkey's Constitutional Court to declare the military's offensive against the PKK in the southeast as illegal.

The PKK, which began an armed struggle against the Turkish state in 1984 for more autonomy, restarted its fight last year after a ceasefire collapsed, calling for "uprisings" in the towns of the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

The latest arrests come after Erdogan said he wanted to see the definition of terrorism in Turkey expanded, in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed 35 people in Ankara on Sunday, blamed by the government on the PKK.

"There's no difference between a terrorist with a gun and bomb in his hand and those who exploit their positions, pens and titles and put them at terrorists' disposal to achieve their aims," Erdogan said on Monday.

"The fact that they are MPs, academics, writers, journalists, NGO executives does not change the fact that they are terrorists. Those who explode the bomb and pull the trigger can be terrorists but those who help that action achieve its goal are their supporters and abetters."

In January, a "petition for peace" signed by 1,200 Turkish and foreign intellectuals condemned "massacres" allegedly committed by the security forces in operations against PKK rebels in several towns that had been placed under curfew.

The petition sparked a furious response from Erdogan, who said the academics had fallen into a "pit of treachery."

Last week, the teachers' union Egitim-Sem said that prosecutors had filed 153 criminal proceedings against signatories of the petition, nine teachers had been fired and 27 others suspended.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the arrests as "the latest attack on free speech in Turkey".

"President Erdogan's vicious campaign against the academics is part of his drive to banish, punish, and silence all critical voices in Turkey," HRW's Emma Sinclair-Webb said in a statement, urging the authorities to drop the cases.