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Turkish police detain Amnesty International chief, group says

ANKARA, Turkey -- Amnesty International's chairman in Turkey has been detained as part of a crackdown on people suspected of links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been accused by Turkey of orchestrating last year's failed coup

The rights advocacy group said late Tuesday that Taner Kilic, a lawyer, was detained at his home in the western Turkish city of Izmir along with 22 other attorneys. Both his home and office were searched, Amnesty said.

His detention did not appear to be linked to his work with Amnesty International and the organization was not believed to be specifically targeted in the police sweep, the rights group said. Amnesty said it was not clear why Kilic was suspected of having ties to Gulen's movement.

Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said the detention of Kilic and 22 other lawyers was proof of "how arbitrary" Turkey's crackdown on the Gulen movement has become.

"In the absence of credible and admissible evidence of their involvement in internationally recognized crimes, we are calling on the Turkish authorities to immediately release Taner Kilic along with the other 22 lawyers," said Shetty.

There was no immediate comment from the Turkish authorities on Kilic's case. But in Washington, the State Department said the United States was "deeply concerned" about the detention, calling it part of "an alarming trend."

"As we have expressed to the Turkish government on numerous occasions, persistent curbs on free speech and other freedoms erode the foundations of democratic society," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Turkey has launched a widespread crackdown on Gulen's followers since the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, arresting some 50,000 people and purging tens of thousands of others from government jobs. On Wednesday, authorities issued warrants for the detention of eight former and current employees of Turkey's defense company, ASELSAN, suspected of ties to Gulen's movement, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. 

Critics say the government is using a state of emergency declared after the attempted coup to clamp down on all opponents. 

In November 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Gulen a "leader of a terrorist organization," on "60 Minutes." Erdogan insisted the crackdown since the coup is not targeting a political movement.

"In Turkey, they attempted to destroy my state," Erdogan said. "And of course, we could not remain silent. We could not remain indifferent. And these measures are being taken by prosecutors and judges in full accordance with the rule of law. "