ISTANBUL : Eight human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser, were greeted by celebrating relatives and supporters as they were released from jail near Istanbul early Thursday.

A court late Wednesday ordered the release of the eight, including two foreigners, who are among 11 activists on trial over contested terror charges.

Turkey’s Amnesty chief to stay behind bars

A Turkish court in Izmir ordered the head of Amnesty International in Turkey to remain in pre-trial detention on Thursday, the rights group said, after he denied allegations of links to the Muslim cleric Ankara blames for last year’s failed coup.

Taner Kilic was detained in June over claims he was a member of the group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of ordering the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The latest hearing in Izmir in western Turkey comes a day after Kilic also went on trial in another case along with 10 rights activists, including Amnesty’s Turkey director Idil Eser, who were detained in July on contested terror charges after holding a workshop on an island off Istanbul.

While Kilic is voluntary chairman of Amnesty’s board of directors handling administrative affairs, Eser is in charge of day-to-day business including Amnesty Turkey’s campaigns for human rights.

Eser and seven others were freed for the duration of their trial after the first hearing in Istanbul on Wednesday on charges of “aiding” an armed terror group. Two others had been released earlier.

They are accused of links to Gulen and other outlawed groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

Amnesty said Kilic’s case in Izmir will be merged with the 10 activists’ case in Istanbul.

“The release of the Istanbul 10 late last night restored some faith in Turkey’s justice system. Today, that faith has been washed away,” Amnesty secretary-general Salil Shetty said.

Prosecutors claim Kilic was aware of preparations for the Istanbul workshop.

Erdogan said in July that the activists were detained after a tip-off they were working against the government, comparing them to those involved in the failed putsch.

“There are inconcrete and unclear accusations in the indictment, and there is no concrete evidence” to prove links to Gulen, Kilic was quoted as saying in court by Amnesty Turkey’s official Twitter account.

“It is essential that there is a presumption of innocence,” he said.

“Statements by the authorities have affected my right to a fair trial.”

Kilic also accused the authorities of trying him because of his work with Amnesty, the group said.

Turkish authorities claim Kilic had an encrypted messaging application on his phone in August 2014 called Bylock, which they allege was created especially for Gulen supporters.

Thousands of people have been detained across Turkey on suspicion of using the app.

Kilic also had a bank account with the Gulen-linked Bank Asya, but Amnesty previously said it was “clearly impossible to infer membership of an organisation, let alone sympathy for its purported criminal aims, from the opening of an account”.

Amnesty said the Turkish authorities have not presented “credible evidence to substantiate” the claims that he had also downloaded ByLock.

The next hearing of the 11 human rights activists - including a German and a Swedish national - in Istanbul will be on November 22.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the release of German activist, Peter Steudtner, in what he described as the “first sign of detente” following the bitter row between Ankara and Berlin over the arrest of Germans in Turkey.

The Swedish foreign ministry said Swede Ali Gharavi’s release was “obviously positive”.