Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were credible allegations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the violent clashes between government security forces and the terrorist PKK organization in the Southeast (see section 1.g.).
A coup attempt on July 15 resulted in the death of more than 240 individuals and the injury of more than 2,100, most of them civilians who took to the streets to defend their democratically elected government. The government attributed the coup attempt to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which it formally designated as the “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization.” On July 16, angry mobs beat soldiers surrendering following the attempted coup as they tried to leave Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge, killing at least one.
The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of deadly attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians during the year. According to the government, 208 civilians died and 1,259 were injured in clashes between security forces and the PKK in the first eight months of the year. The government noted that 451 security personnel were killed in the same period, with 2,810 injured.
The Human Rights Association (HRA), a domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO), attributed more than 300 civilian deaths during the first eight months of the year to the security forces, most of them in the fighting with the PKK. Human rights groups alleged that the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK in the Southeast (section 1.g.).
A range of groups criticized the government’s slow-moving investigation of the suspicious death of Diyarbakir Bar Association president, Tahir Elci, who was shot and killed at a press gathering in Diyarbakir in November 2015 under unclear circumstances. The investigation continued as of year’s end.
During the year the government tightened control of its border with Syria in response to requests from foreign governments to restrict the entry of Da’esh fighters who were moving through Turkey to commit terrorist acts elsewhere. This border tightening restricted humanitarian access to Turkey for those fleeing the conflict in Syria. Turkey allowed access only to those needing immediate medical assistance. Some Syrians attempting to cross the border illegally were injured or killed during border crossings (see section 2.d.).
Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody following the coup attempt and noted 16 to 23 reported suicides of detainees as of November. On September 16, Seyfettin Yigit in Bursa allegedly committed suicide after being detained for Gulen-related connections. His family claimed he was a victim of police violence. Yigit had been heavily involved in developing the case announced in 2013, alleging high-level official corruption that implicated members of then-prime minister Erdogan’s family and close circle, including four ministers.
Security officers reacted with force to some protests and demonstrations. Human rights groups claimed the use of force might have contributed to civilian deaths during certain protests in the Southeast. Human rights organizations continued to assert that the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests (see section 2.b.).
In addition to the violence resulting from the coup attempt and attacks perpetrated by the PKK (see section 1.g.), citizens were also affected by five terrorist attacks attributed to Da’esh. On January 7, a suicide bomber in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square killed 12 persons and injured 14. On March 19, another suicide bomber targeted tourists in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street, killing five persons and injuring 36. On May 1, a vehicle-borne suicide bomb killed three police officers and injured 21 persons. On June 28, three men attacked Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, killing 45 persons and injuring more than 200. On August 20, a child suicide bomber killed 54 persons and injured 69 at a wedding in Gaziantep.
There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but there were reports that some government officials employed these tactics. Human rights groups alleged that, although torture and mistreatment in police custody decreased following installation of closed-circuit cameras in 2012, police continued to abuse detainees outside police stations. The Ministry of Justice reported there were 457 investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prison or detention centers through October 20. In 39 cases the investigations resulted in fines, and in two cases the suspects were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. There was one allegation of rape or sexual abuse in prison during the year, which was forwarded to prosecutors.
The HRA reported receiving hundreds of requests for assistance in connection with allegations of torture and inhuman treatment both in detention centers and outside police stations during the year, adding that intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common. The HRA reported that victims hesitated to report abuse due to fear of reprisal. Following the coup attempt in July, detainees regularly reported problems including prison overcrowding and lack of access to legal representation and medical treatment.
Thousands of detainees taken into custody in the initial aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt were held in stadiums, meeting rooms, and other sites without cameras, where some were allegedly subject to mistreatment or abuse. Amnesty International (AI) alleged some detainees in Ankara and Istanbul were tortured and reported widespread use of stress positions, denial of food and water, detention in unsanitary conditions, in addition to beatings and rapes. On July 25, AI reported that an anonymous witness at the Ankara police headquarters gym described the following: “…650-800 male soldiers were being held in the Ankara police headquarters sports hall. At least 300 of the detainees showed signs of having been beaten. Some detainees had visible bruises, cuts, or broken bones. Around 40 were so badly injured they could not walk. Two were unable to stand. One woman who was also detained in a separate facility there had bruising on her face and torso.” Bar Association representatives corroborated the allegations; in some cases before-and-after photos appeared to show evidence of beatings by security forces. Authorities restricted lawyers’ access to the detainees as allowed under decrees passed during the state of emergency.
The UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer, reported following his visit (November 27-December 2) that the government’s changes to due process implemented in response to the July coup attempt created an environment conducive to torture. He interviewed many inmates who reported experiencing torture either in connection with detentions in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, or in connection with alleged PKK support in the Southeast. He concluded that in the days and weeks following the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread in the initial detention and interrogation phases. Melzer noted that very few of those who reported torture had made any official complaint due to fear of reprisals or mistrust of the institutions meant to prevent torture. Intimidation and distrust prevented not just inmates, but also other sectors of society such as lawyers, doctors, and NGOs, from initiating actions that might be perceived as critical of the government, including complaints about torture.
Two journalists detained on August 16 in connection with the closure of pro-Kurdish news media outlet Ozgur Gundem reported being beaten and threatened with rape by police officers.
On October 25, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the government’s decrees under the state of emergency facilitated torture by removing safeguards that protected detainees from mistreatment. The report described a pattern of denial of access to legal aid and detainees’ medical reports, which it claimed prevented substantiation of allegations of physical abuse. A provision in the emergency decrees absolved government officials of any responsibility for abuses in connection with duties carried out in the context of the decrees.
The government claimed witness reports described in the AI and HRW reports described above were a smear campaign on the part of Gulenists.
The TNP reported 24 criminal investigations into allegations of torture during the year, all of which led to decisions not to prosecute the officials involved. There were three disciplinary investigations related to torture; all three continued at year’s end.
The newly organized National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI), parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), and the Ombudsman Institution are administratively responsible for investigating reports of human rights violations, including allegations of torture, excessive use of force, or extrajudicial killings (see section 5).
Police harassment of LGBTI persons, particularly transgender sex workers, remained common.
According to the NGO Soldiers’ Rights Platform, some military conscripts endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in suicide. The NGO reported that at least five soldiers had committed suicide as of September 27 but claimed the actual number was at least double. The Human Rights Joint Platform (HRJP), a domestic NGO, alleged that hate crimes, sexual orientation, and discrimination based on ethnicity played a role in military suicides and suspicious deaths, but it noted an absence of empirical data because the military did not recognize ethnic minorities or collect data on sexual orientation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison facilities generally met international standards for physical conditions in many respects, with certain exceptions. Overcrowding, particularly in the wake of wide-scale arrests following the July 15 coup attempt, and lack of access to adequate health care remained problems.
Physical Conditions: In August, Justice Minister Bozdag reported the prison population was 215,000. As of October 20, the Ministry of Justice reported there were 372 prisons in the country with a capacity of 189,269 inmates. As of October 20, the prisons were occupied by 196,415 prisoners. Of these, 66,644 were in pretrial detention while 129,771 were convicted of a crime. Some 80 percent of the pretrial detainees had been in prison for less than a year. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities with convicted prisoners.
The government reported it used separate prisons for children where such facilities were available; otherwise, children were held in separate sections within adult prisons.
Human rights organizations asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, and lighting. According to the HRA, prisoners sometimes complained about food quantity and quality.
Through October 17, the Justice Ministry reported 283 inmate deaths from natural causes as well as 48 suicides and 16 deaths from other causes. It reported that 181 seriously ill prisoners had been released during the year.
Although the government asserted that doctors were assigned to each prison, according to Ministry of Justice statistics, 11 doctors served prisons in the country as of March 4, or one doctor for every 33 prisons and 16,839 inmates. Human rights associations expressed serious concern over the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. As of September the HRA reported that 926 inmates were sick, including 331 in critical condition, and that three inmates had been released for health reasons during the year.
Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-reaching antiterror law, to keep in prison inmates whom they deem dangerous to public security, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.
In August, the Istanbul Prison Monitoring Commission of the Istanbul branch of the Progressive Lawyers Association reported that the state of emergency had negatively affected prison conditions. The report, based on information acquired through complaints received and interviews conducted by the association’s lawyers, identified several alleged violations of prisoners’ rights, including prisoners injured during prison transfers, restrictions on telephone calls and family visits, restricted access to information and reading material, recording of attorney-client meetings, and abuse of sick prisoners.
The HRA reported that political prisoners typically were held in higher-security prisons and only received one to two hours per week of recreational time. The law normally allows prisoners 10 hours of recreational time per week, a provision restricted by government decree following the coup attempt.
Administration: Authorities at times investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or take action to hold perpetrators accountable. The Ministry of Justice reported 457 investigations (both criminal and administrative) of alleged prison violence or mistreatment through October 20. The ministry did not supply prison monitoring boards reports for the year but stated that in 2015 monitoring boards made 1,302 visits to 358 prisons throughout the country.
The NHREI and the Ombudsman Institution were established to function as a human rights check for prisons as well as for broader human rights and personnel issues. Parliament’s HRC and the Ombudsman Institution had authorization to visit and observe prisons, including military prisons, without advance permission. During the year the HRC issued one report–on prison conditions in Tekirdag.
Independent Monitoring: The government reported it allowed prison visits by some international delegations, the EU, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and UN bodies. A CPT delegation visited the country in April and carried out an ad hoc visit in August-September. The government postponed a visit in September requested by the UN special rapporteur on torture, citing limited government resources to support such a visit, which subsequently took place in late November.
The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The HRA reported it had received numerous complaints of inhuman treatment and torture by prison wardens or other inmates.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but numerous credible reports, especially in the wake of the failed July 15 coup attempt, indicated the government did not always observe these prohibitions. For example, in the three months following the coup attempt, police detained more than 75,000 individuals and formally arrested more than 41,000. The vast majority were accused of ties to the Gulen movement, as opposed to direct participation in the coup attempt itself. Under the state of emergency, detainees could be held without charge for up to 30 days. There were numerous accounts of persons waiting beyond 30 days to be formally charged. Bar associations reported that detainees had difficulty gaining access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially those not provided by the state, such as legal aid lawyers–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals suspected of ties to the coup attempt. A variety of sources reported instances of individuals wrongfully detained for ties to the coup based on poison-pen allegations driven by personal or other rivalries.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Turkish National Police (TNP), under the control of the Ministry of Interior, was responsible for security in large urban areas. The Jandarma, a paramilitary force previously under the joint control of the Ministry of Interior and the military, was moved to strictly civilian control by decree on July 27. It was responsible for rural areas and specific border sectors where smuggling was common, although the military has overall responsibility for border control and overall external security. The Jandarma supervised the “village guards,” a civilian militia historically involved in human rights abuses that provided additional local security in the Southeast, largely in response to the terrorist threat from the PKK. Village guards were renamed “security guards” in an October 29 decree.
Government mechanisms to investigate and punish alleged abuse and corruption by state officials remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem. National Intelligence Organization members have had legal immunity from prosecution since 2014. On July 14, a new law granted additional, retroactive immunity to security officials fighting terror. The law gave expansive powers to the military and made it harder to investigate human rights abuses by requiring permission from both military and civilian leadership to pursue prosecution.
The Ombudsman Institution, the NHREI, and parliament’s HRC are authorized to investigate reports of security force killings, torture or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses, but military and civil courts remained the main recourse to prevent impunity.
The Jandarma reported that the Jandarma Human Rights Inquiry and Evaluation Center received 19 complaints of human rights violations during the first eight months of the year. Of those the center found no fault with Jandarma personnel in 16 cases; three cases continued as of year’s end. The TNP reported that, during the same period, 60 personnel were the subjects of internal disciplinary investigations for excessive use of force. As of year’s end, 57 of the investigations continued while three had concluded without finding fault by TNP personnel. There were also 83 TNP criminal cases related to excessive use of force. One case concluded with an acquittal while 82 resulted in decisions not to prosecute.
Prosecutors filed more than 6,000 criminal cases against civilians accused of perpetrating violence against the state during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Only nine security officials have faced charges for their role in protesters’ deaths. In three cases, courts found police criminally responsible for deaths. In one case an Anatolian court in December concluded a retrial of police officer Ahmet Sahbaz, finding him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2013 shooting death of Gezi Park protester Ethem Sarisuluk. The court sentenced Sahbaz to 16 months in prison, converted to a fine of 10,100 lira ($2,900), a significant sentence reduction compared with the outcome in 2014 of the original trial that was overturned on procedural grounds, which found Sahbaz guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to more than seven years in jail. The retrial in one of the other two cases concluded, reaching the same guilty verdict as initially rendered and ruling for the release of the guilty parties after ruling they had served sufficient prison time. In the third case, the appeal remained pending as of year’s end.
Istanbul prosecutors announced on March 3 that they had identified a police officer responsible for firing the tear gas canister that killed 14-year-old Berkan Elvan. Prosecutors indicted the suspect, known only as F.D., on December 7. Prosecutors had not filed charges at year’s end in the case of protester Ahmet Atakan, killed when shot in the head with a tear gas canister in Hatay in 2013. On November 8, a Diyarbakir court acquitted Adem Ciftci, an army private accused of shooting Medeni Yildirim as he allegedly watched a group of protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers guarding a new police station in Lice district in 2013.
Officials employed the tactic of counterfiling lawsuits against individuals who alleged abuse. Mustafa Yıldız, the father of a nine-year-old with Down syndrome, was fined more than 7,000 lira (about $2,000) on July 11 after his son’s behavior bothered an unnamed police officer at a sporting match in Konya in January. The father filed a complaint against the officer for insulting him and his son, prompting the police officer to counterfile, alleging the man called him “ill-mannered.” A court dismissed the father’s complaint for lack of evidence but found in favor of the police officer, levying a suspended fine against Yildiz.
During the first eight months of the year, the Jandarma reported that more than 2,000 personnel were trained on human rights topics. The TNP reported that more than 8,000 personnel received some human rights training through September.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires warrants issued by a prosecutor for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. Under ordinary circumstances individuals may be detained for up to 24 hours, after which a prosecutor may authorize extending the period to 48 hours, excluding transportation time, before arraigning them with a prosecutor’s warrant before a judge. A chief prosecutor may apply to extend this period of custody up to four days before arraignment under certain circumstances, including cases with multiple suspects and charges. Formal arrest is a later step, separate from detention, and means a suspect will be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. Authorities must notify suspects of the charges against them within 24 hours, although human rights activists claimed that authorities did not always inform suspects of the basis of a given charge. For crimes that carry sentences of fewer than three years in prison, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge can either release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or hold the defendant in custody (arrest) prior to trial if there are specific facts indicating that the suspect may flee, attempt to destroy evidence, or attempt to pressure or tamper with witnesses or victims. Judges often kept suspects in detention without articulating a clear justification for doing so.
While the law generally provides detainees the right to immediate access to an attorney at any time, laws enacted in 2015 allow prosecutors to deny such access for up to 24 hours. In criminal cases the law also requires that the government provide indigent detainees with a public attorney if they request one. In cases where the potential prison sentence is more than five years or where the defendant is a child or is disabled, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases, authorities provided an attorney where a defendant could not afford one. Judges also may limit a lawyer’s access to the investigation file, should the judge decide the case is confidential. Defense lawyers’ access to their clients’ court files for a specific catalogue of crimes (including crimes against state security, organized crime, and sexual assault against children) may be restricted until the client is indicted.
The state of emergency declared following the July 15 coup attempt provided the government with expanded authorities to detain individuals for up to 30 days without charge and deny access to counsel for up to five days. Decrees gave prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege, observe and record conversations between the accused and their legal counsel, and intervene in the selection of defendants’ legal counsel. In October the government used a state-of-emergency decree to reestablish a 24-hour limit for which detainees could be held without access to legal counsel, but legal contacts asserted at year’s end that the five-day rule was still being applied. Following the extension of the state of emergency in October, these provisions remained in place.
Private attorneys and human rights monitors reported irregular implementation of laws protecting the right to a fair trial, particularly with respect to attorney access. Prior to the July 15 coup attempt, human rights groups alleged that authorities frequently denied detainees access to an attorney in terrorism-related cases until security forces had interrogated the suspect.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions, especially following the July 15 coup attempt. Human rights groups alleged that in areas under curfew or in “special security zones,” security forces detained citizens without official record, leaving detainees at greater risk of arbitrary abuse.
Pretrial Detention: Changes to the law in 2014 reduced from 10 years to five the maximum time that a detainee could be held pending conviction, including for organized crime and terrorism-related offenses. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period is two years plus three one-year extensions, for a total of five years.
The trial system does not provide for access to a speedy trial, and hearings in a case may be months apart. In 2007 police apprehended five individuals for killing three Christians in Malatya, also known as the Zirve Publishing House massacre. The trial concluded at its 115th hearing on September 28 when a court found seven defendants guilty and acquitted 14 others. Emre Gunaydin, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, Salih Gurler, and Abuzer Yildirim were convicted of the 2007 torture and murder of two Turkish converts to Christianity (Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel) and a German citizen (Tilmann Geske). The convicts recorded the torture on their cell phones and murdered their victims after police arrived. While the lengthy trial was ongoing, all the suspects were released from pretrial detention in 2014 because they had reached the five-year maximum allowable time in pretrial detention, although the court had discretion to make exceptions for violent crimes.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although the state of emergency imposed limits on this ability. Changes to the country’s judicial process in 2015 introduced a system of lateral appeals for the Criminal Courts of Peace, substituting appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the move, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings rendered by horizontally equal courts.
In cases of alleged human rights violations, detainees have the right to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress while their criminal case is proceeding. On February 25, the Constitutional Court ruled for the release of opposition daily Cumhuriyet editor in chief, Can Dundar, together with Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, on the grounds that their pretrial detention (on charges of revealing state secrets and seeking the violent overthrow of the government) was a violation of their right to liberty and freedom of expression.
Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) reported that it operated 18 readmission and removal centers with a capacity of 6,670. The DGMM reported that as of September 18, there were 3,781 individuals in these facilities. The DGMM stated that facilities had shortcomings, largely because they had not been designed to serve as readmission and removal centers. NGOs reported that some detainees were held for extended periods, although many were released within days.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that detention center conditions varied and were often challenging due to limited physical capacity and increased referrals–some of them related to the country’s March agreement with the EU to accept migrant returns from Greece in return for the resettlement of refugees in Turkey to Europe. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged that migrants placed in detention and return centers were prevented by authorities from communicating with the outside world, including their family members or lawyers, creating a situation of impunity.
Amnesty: To alleviate prison overcrowding, an August 17 government decree under the state of emergency provided for the release of persons convicted of a selected catalogue of nonviolent crimes, who had less than two years remaining on their sentence and at least half of their sentence completed. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced in September that this provision had allowed the release of approximately 34,000 persons from prison, making space for some of the more than 41,000 arrested after the failed coup attempt.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch. Parliament in early July approved legislation restructuring two of the country’s high courts, the Court of Appeals and the Council of State. Among other actions the legislation reduced the number of judges on each court and imposed 12-year term limits on newly appointed judges. The government claimed the reform would streamline the judiciary constructively. Critics charged that the move increased executive influence over the judiciary.
Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) controls the careers of judges and prosecutors through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands. Broad leeway granted to prosecutors and judges, challenges the requirement to remain impartial, and the judges’ inclination to protect the state over the individual contributed to inconsistent application of criminal laws.
The suspension, detention, firing, and freezing of personal assets of more than 3,000 members of the judiciary after the July 15 coup attempt (representing about 22 percent of the total) accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement had a chilling effect on judicial independence. The government alleged some obtained their positions through collusion with officials or after cheating on professional entrance exams prior to the dissolution of the partnership between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement. The government in many cases presented little evidence and had not allowed the accused to see or respond to the claims against them. By September most of those who had initially been suspended were fired, in many cases without adequate due process. On October 13, in response to an appeal, the HSYK reinstated 198 judges and prosecutors who had previously been suspended. As of September 2, the government hired 956 new judges and prosecutors.
The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system.
The country’s system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors created close connections between them; observers (including the European Commission) claimed this process led to the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases. Prosecutors and judges studied together at the country’s Justice Academy before being assigned to their first official posts by the HSYK; after appointment they often lodged together, shared the same office space, worked in the same courtroom for many years, and even swapped positions over their careers. Prosecutors entered courtrooms through doors reserved for judicial officials and sat next to judges throughout court proceedings. Human rights and bar associations noted that defense attorneys generally underwent less rigorous training than their prosecutorial counterparts and were not required to pass an examination to demonstrate a minimum level of expertise.
The constitution provides for the trial of military personnel in civilian courts if their alleged crime was committed against the state or the constitutional order. Decisions of the Supreme Military Council were generally not open to civilian review, although the constitution provides for civilian judicial review when specific circumstances are met.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial. Increasing executive interference over the judiciary and actions taken by the government under the state of emergency jeopardized this right.
Under the law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trial. Judges can restrict lawyers’ access to defendants’ files during the prosecution phase. Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, although the state increasingly made use of a clause allowing cases to be sealed for national security reasons. The European Commission’s current year progress report and other observers noted that indictments often lacked logical reasoning or evidentiary support.
Courtroom proceedings were generally public for all cases except those involving minors as defendants. The state increasingly used a clause allowing closed courtrooms for hearings and trials related to security matters, such as those related to “crimes against the state.” Court files, which contain indictments, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, were closed to everyone other than the parties to a case, making it difficult to obtain information on the progress or results of court cases.
A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases.
Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to legal representation in criminal cases and, if indigent, to have representation provided at public expense. Defendants or their attorneys could question witnesses for the prosecution although questions must usually be presented to the judges who will then ask the questions on behalf of counsel. Defendants or their attorneys could, within limits, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Secret witnesses were frequently used, particularly in cases related to state security. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for free interpretation to all parties in a case when needed. The HRA alleged that free interpretation was not always provided, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.
Trials sometimes took years to begin, and appeals could take years to reach conclusion. The courts were capable of moving more quickly in certain cases. In March a 54-year-old teacher employed by the Ensar Foundation, an education-focused body associated with the AKP, was implicated in a sexual assault case in Karaman, where he was accused of systematically assaulting at least 10 male students between the ages of nine and 12, who lived in dorms operated by the foundation. The accused perpetrator stood a one-day trial six weeks after the crime was reported (April 20). Although the court found the perpetrator guilty and gave a record 500-year prison sentence, critics charged the speed of the trial and the court’s refusal to expand the investigation to dozens of other potential victims constituted political protection for the AKP-favored foundation.
In April the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of all defendants in the Ergenekon case, a large-scale trial that began in 2008 and eventually involved 275 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government. A lower court had ruled against most of the suspects in 2013, but most were released from prison in 2014 after the Constitutional Court ruled that their rights were violated on the grounds that the detailed explanation of the judgment against them was not issued within the legal timeframe, precluding appeal. The decision to overturn the convictions was based on lack of concrete evidence proving the existence of the alleged Ergenekon terrorist organization, irregularities in evidence and procedure, and violation of due process. As of year’s end, the case was scheduled to be retried in a lower court.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The number of political prisoners was not a matter of public record and remained the subject of debate at year’s end. In March media reported that 6,592 prison inmates were alleged members of the PKK, while 518 were alleged members of Da’esh and 366 were alleged members of the Gulen movement. Some observers assessed that many imprisoned after the failed coup attempt could be considered political prisoners, a charge disputed by the government. The Justice Ministry reported that, as of October 20, there were 47,512 prisoners in detention on terror-related charges.
Despite limits placed on the use of the antiterror law during 2013 and 2014 by the Fourth and Fifth Judicial Packages, prosecutors continued to use a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security to launch criminal charges against a broad range of defendants, including more than 140 journalists and hundreds of mostly pro-Kurdish politicians, party officers, and supporters. Notable detentions and arrests during the year included Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) cochairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, and other HDP parliamentarians in November, as well as several Democratic Regions Party (DBP) local mayors in the months following the coup attempt. At year’s end approximately 70 mayors had been removed from office, detained, or arrested for allegedly supporting terrorism (section 1.g.). Antiterror laws were broadly used against Kurds, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged members of the Gulen movement. Human rights groups alleged that many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to weaken the pro-Kurdish HDP and DBP or to silence critical voices. Authorities used both the antiterror laws and increased powers accorded to the government under the state of emergency to detain individuals and seize assets, including those of media companies, charities, and businesses, of pro-Kurdish groups accused of supporting the PKK, and of individuals alleged to be associated with the Gulen movement.
Credible media reports claimed that some persons jailed on terror charges were subject to a variety of abuses, including long solitary confinements, severe limitations on outdoor exercise and out-of-cell activity, inability to engage in professional work, denial of access to the library and media, slow medical attention, and in some cases the denial of medical treatment. Media also alleged that visitors to prisoners accused of terror-related crimes faced abuse, including limited access to loved ones, strip searches, and degrading treatment by prison guards.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, although this differed in practice. Citizens have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. A 2015 law established new regional appeals courts to act as first-level appellate courts, which became operational in September. The Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay) remained the initial appellate body for redress until the regional appeals courts were functional. The law also allows individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court on constitutional and human rights issues, theoretically allowing for faster and logistically easier high-level review of human rights violations within contested court decisions, although the Constitutional Court experienced a backlog that slowed access to justice. The right of citizens to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress of human rights issues led to a decrease in recent years in the number of applications made to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the country, as applicants to the ECHR must first exhaust all domestic remedies available to them. An ECHR spokesperson in November reported a substantial increase in applications from Turkey in connection with the government’s response to the coup attempt.
Cabinet decrees in March and April expropriated properties in several districts of Diyarbakir, Sirnak, Hakkari, and Mardin Provinces for the purposes of facilitating government reconstruction of areas damaged in clashes between the government and the PKK. The expropriation decrees provided minimal information about restitution and compensation for property owners. In April the Diyarbakir Bar Association and 750 individual citizens filed applications in court against the expropriation decisions, including by arguing that property owners were not given adequate means to contest decisions. As of year’s end, the courts had not ruled on these cases, but the government had moved forward with the destruction and reconstruction of expropriated properties (see section 1.g.).
After the July 15 coup attempt, the government seized hundreds of businesses and an estimated 15 billion lira ($4 billion) in assets from alleged members of the Gulen movement. In December the Istanbul 11th Criminal Court of Peace authorized the government to seize all personal assets of 54 journalists due their alleged links to the Gulen movement, although they had not been convicted of a crime. Under the state of emergency, these businesses and individuals generally had limited legal recourse to appeal government actions as of year’s end.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution provides for the “secrecy of private life” and states that individuals have the right to demand protection and correction of their personal information and data, the law provides the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) the power to collect information while seriously limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. The MIT may collect data from any entity without a warrant or other judicial process for approval. At the same time, the law establishes criminal penalties for interfering with MIT activities, including MIT data collection, for obtaining information about the MIT, or for publishing information about the MIT. Additionally, the law gives the MIT and its employees immunity from prosecution. Only the Prime Minister’s Office has oversight of the MIT and the ability to investigate MIT activities. The Constitutional Court partially revoked the law in 2015 but did not rule on the controversial articles expanding the powers of the institution.
The law gives police and the Jandarma authority without cause to compel citizens to identify themselves, a power expanded by the state of emergency.
The 2015 Internal Security Package of laws provides broader police powers for personal search and seizure. Senior police officials may authorize search warrants, with judicial permission to follow within 24 hours. Individuals subjected to such searches have the right to lodge complaints, but judicial permission occurring after a search has already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.
Security forces can conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against abuse of this power, the Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board can conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy.
After the coup attempt, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on some wanted suspects. Under the state of emergency, the government cancelled the passports of family members of civil servants suspended from work as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of accused Gulenists who were outside the country, forcing family separation. In August police detained the wife of editor in chief Bulent Korucu of the now-closed Gulenist daily Zaman and its successor publication, Yarina Bakis. Authorities reportedly detained former AKP parliamentarian Hakan Sukur’s 75-year-old father, Sermet Sukur, on August 12 in lieu of his son. On November 26, the father was reportedly released under house arrest. His son, who was reportedly out of the country at year’s end, was accused of Gulenist ties.
On April 7, parliament approved the Law on the Protection of Personal Data. The legislation stipulates that personal data–information about race, ethnicity, political thought, philosophical beliefs, religious affiliation, appearance, membership in organizations, health, sexual life, and criminal record, as well as security-related information and biometric/genetic data–cannot be processed or transferred abroad without the individual’s explicit consent. Under the law personal data can only be transferred to a foreign country if there is adequate protection in the receiving country, a written assurance of adequate protection, and permission of the country’s newly created data-protection authority. Some legal experts asserted that the law fails to protect personal data adequately, particularly because it introduces a series of exceptions that could give the state flexibility in collecting and using private data.
The European Commission’s current year progress report on Turkey noted the April 7 Law on the Protection of Personal Data was not aligned with EU standards.
Government seizure and closure of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information. An Istanbul fertility center owned by Aret Kamar, who was accused of Gulenist affiliations, was closed by government decree following the July 15 coup attempt. The government seized personal files of 40,000 patients, and all embryos were transferred to Koc University laboratories, leaving couples in a state of uncertainty about the potential violation of their right to privacy.
Many citizens believed authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their e-mail messages or social media accounts, which led to widespread self-censorship, especially following the coup attempt. Human rights groups assessed that self-censorship due to fear of official reprisal accounted, in part, for the relatively low number of complaints they received regarding allegations of torture or mistreatment.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits violence against women, but human rights organizations claimed the government did not effectively enforce it. The law prohibits sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for rape or actual sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims, who often waited days or weeks to report incidents due to embarrassment or fear of reprisals, hindering effective prosecution of assailants. Government statistics on violence against women were incomplete, and human rights organizations had little confidence that official statistics were comprehensive or captured the magnitude of the problem. Societal acceptance of domestic abuse in some cases contributed to its underreporting.
The law covers all women, regardless of marital status, and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also requires government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.
The law provides for the establishment of prevention-of-violence and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. As of December 2015, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 133 women’s shelters: 101 run by the central government and 32 by local administrations. The shelters had a capacity of at least 2,388. Domestic NGOs also operated a few shelters. An Istanbul-based NGO, Purple Roof, reported that in the first six months of the year, 493 women and children applied for assistance with domestic violence issues.
Regulations call for a state-funded women’s shelter for every 100,000 persons. There were no sanctions for noncompliance. Observers noted an inadequate number of shelters–or no shelters at all–in many cities with populations above 100,000. For example, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted three shelters in Ankara, a city with a population of five million.
The government operated a nationwide domestic-violence hotline, but women’s rights NGOs criticized authorities for changing its focus from violence against women to broader issues, including challenges faced by families, women, children, the disabled, and families of martyrs and veterans. NGOs reported the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for crimes such as assault, wrongful imprisonment, or threats. Despite these measures the number of killings and other forms of violence against women remained high. According to research undertaken by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, 86 percent of women surveyed stated they had been subjected to physical or psychological violence by their partners or family. Approximately 70 percent of women reported they were physically assaulted by partners, family members, or neighbors.
Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported that police rarely enforced them effectively. One women’s advocate charged that, following the July 15 coup attempt, the government’s reassignment, suspension, and firing of police officers jeopardized the safety of some women who had been assigned protection. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families. During a workshop on women’s issues on April 14, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag defined domestic violence as a “family matter and internal issue.” He reportedly stated, “How correct is the state’s interference in disagreements between men and women with its police, military, judiciary, psychiatrists, social workers, and experts? Do they really work saving the family…or are such practices carrying it to an irreversible place? We need to discuss this without the fear of the reactions that may come from the civil society organizations.”
A May 16 report by a parliamentary committee aimed at reducing the incidence of divorce advocated reducing the legal age of marriage (from 18 to 15) and reinstating a law that allowed an adult who had sexual relations with a child between the ages of 15 and 18 to escape criminal charges if the victim agreed to marry him. A draft bill was accordingly approved in an initial reading by the parliament on November 17, but it was withdrawn on November 22 after strong public protests. The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 14th Criminal Chamber, which oversees sexual crimes, reported to parliament in May that approximately 3,000 underage marriages had been registered officially, although he did not specify the timeframe. Although the practice is not currently legal, some NGOs reported that the country’s conservative rural populations still used early marriage as a means to preserve a girl’s “honor” after she has had sex, even in some cases of rape.
The Stop Women Murders Now platform reported at year’s end that 328 women had been murdered during the year. NGO groups maintained this number was probably lower than actual occurrences due to underreporting. The Stop Women Murders Now platform assessed that the most common reasons behind women’s killings were women’s attempting to take charge of decisions relating to their bodies, finances, or social relationships (26 percent of all cases) and women’s decisions to end a marriage or relationship (19 percent). It reported that approximately 34 percent of women’s killings went unsolved.
Courts continued to give reduced sentences to some men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. In one example, a court lessened the penalty given in January to Ibrahim Yilmaz, who stabbed his wife to death in front of their children in Diyarbakır in February 2015. Yilmaz was first sentenced to life imprisonment for “deliberate murder,” but the court lessened his sentence to 24 years after ruling that the crime was committed under “unfair incitement.” Subsequently, the court reduced the sentence to 20 years for the perpetrator’s “respectful stance” during the court hearing.
The Jandarma reported that more than 2,000 personnel were trained on human rights topics, which included training on gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The TNP reported that more than 8,000 personnel received some kind of human rights training through September.
In its July 21 periodic report on the country, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlighted gender-based violence as one of a range of problems persisting in the country.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a practice in Turkey or among the refugee populations present in the country.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: So-called honor killings of women remained a problem. Media generally did not report on honor killings, and the government did not release statistics on the problem during the year. Human rights activists alleged that the practice continued, mostly in conservative families in the rural Southeast or among families of migrants from the Southeast living in large cities.
Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that actual sentences often were reduced due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim. Local political and human rights representatives noted that society largely downplayed the issue of women killed by family members because there was an underlying assumption that some type of “honor” violation was involved, perhaps justifying the killing.
Family members sometimes pressured girls to commit suicide to preserve the family’s reputation. On September 18, a team of academics reported a study of 60 cases of female suicides occurring in Siirt between 2000 and 2013 indicated many cases were likely forced suicides or effectively honor killings.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for two to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws.
On September 12, Abdullah Cakiroglu assaulted a 23-year-old Istanbul resident, Aysegul Terzi, on a public bus, kicking her in the face after shouting at her that her shorts were “inappropriate.” On September 17, police detained Cakiroglu, whose actions were recorded by the bus’s security camera but then released him. Cakiroglu told media he had acted in line with Islamic law. A public outcry led to his arrest on September 19 on charges of “spreading hatred and enmity among people.” Prosecutors requested that he be sentenced to prison for more than nine years.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women’s rights NGOs criticized the government for unofficial restrictions on, or interference in, the distribution of birth control pills. On November 29, Health Minister Recep Akdag, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, said, “Our ministry has no such outdated methods like birth control.”
Discrimination: While women enjoy the same rights as men under the law, societal and official discrimination were widespread.
Women continued to face discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of the employer for several months for any female employee over the age of 18 years old.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2015, the country consistently fell in the report’s ratings over the previous 10 years due to the government’s failure to recognize the role of women outside the family unit and use the law to provide them with effective protection.
Birth Registration: There is universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to pass citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country cannot receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive Turkish citizenship. According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, more than 177,000 babies were born to Syrian mothers in the country since the Syria crisis began in 2011. The government provided documentation of these births, but the citizenship status of these babies was unclear, as their parents could not apply to the Syrian government for birth documentation.
Education: Human rights NGOs expressed concern that the law on compulsory education allows female students to be kept at home and married early. The system, generally referred to as “four+four+four,” divides education into three four-year periods. After the first four years of mandatory elementary education, students can choose to attend general middle school or religious-vocational middle schools, called imam hatip schools. The law also allows parents to homeschool their children starting in the fifth grade. Ministry of National Education statistics from April showed that 194,000 girls who graduated from middle school this year did not continue on to high school. (Based on Ministry of National Education statistics from the previous school year, this figure probably represents approximately one-third of the female student body).
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies) provided conditional cash transfers to support families and children. The ministry reported that these cash transfers incentivized poor families to continue education for their daughters. It did not indicate how many families received the stipend during the year.
The government’s response to the July 15 coup attempt heavily affected children’s education, with more than 39,000 teachers and educators suspended or fired by the end of the September for alleged links to the Gulen movement or PKK. The government used its state of emergency powers to close 1,284 schools on July 27; many additional closures followed over the succeeding months. Approximately 6,000 teachers were reinstated in late November; however, when the 2016-17 school year started in September, children in some school districts were either placed in overcrowded classrooms or unable to attend school. The closures disproportionately affected schools in the Southeast.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and comprehensive social services to provide medical, psychological, and legal assistance were limited. The law provides police and local officials authority to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. It requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.
On July 14, the Constitutional Court annulled a law criminalizing sexual relations with children under 15 years old, ruling that a more flexible law was necessary to give prosecutors and judges the ability to respond to the individual details of cases. The decision was set to take effect in 2017. On November 24, a law was adopted providing new punishment for child sexual abusers. Under the law if the victim is between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, molestation will result in a three-to-eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in an eight-to-15 year sentence, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years in prison. For children younger than 12 years old, molestation will result in a minimum five-year prison sentence, abuse in a minimum 10-year sentence, and rape in a minimum 18-year sentence.
Some aspects of the country’s laws, such as the requirement that sexual crime complaints be filed within six months, reduced their potential utility to victims.
In response to a query from CHP lawmaker Didem Engin, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies stated there were 16,957 child-abuse cases in process during the year as of September. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies actively participated in 2,345 of the cases.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 years old as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. Children as young as 12 years old were at times married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor, rural regions. Some families applied to courts to change their daughters’ birthdate so that they could “legally” marry. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the Southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. In May, Dr. Oguz Polat, an academic at Acibadem University’s Forensic Science Department, reported to parliament that 28 to 35 percent of all marriages in the country were with girls under the age of 18.
On April 19, then minister of family and social policies Sema Ramazanoglu, citing the Turkish Statistics Institute data, announced that since 2010 there were 232,313 girls under the age of 18 years old officially married in the country. Media noted that official marriages only captured a fraction of underage marriages, since many such marriages were concluded as religious marriages only. A May 2015 Constitutional Court decision legalized the right to be religiously married without obtaining a civil marriage. Observers noted that, as a result, official marriage statistics increasingly may not reflect overall numbers of marriages (civil and religious) nationwide.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information provided in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution provides that the state shall take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. There were reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. The penalty for encouraging or facilitating the entry of children into prostitution is four to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, the sentence may be doubled.
The age of consent for sex is 15 years old. The law provides sentences for statutory rape (without use of force) of from two to five years’ imprisonment. The sentence is doubled if the offender is more than five years older than the victim. The Constitutional Court annulled this law in July, effective in 2017 (see Child Abuse).
The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and provides for a prison sentence of six months to two years as well as a fine for violations.
Incest involving children remained a problem, although official statistics were incomplete, and prosecutions remained minimal. The law provides prison sentences of between two and five years for incest.
A global study of the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism conducted by ECPAT International during the year identified Turkey as one of the “major hotspots for the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.”
In March 31 remarks to media, the Lawyers Working for Children network general coordinator, Sahin Antakyalioglu, cited impunity as the main problem in combating sexual exploitation of children in the country and noted that the complexity of legal procedures restricted efforts for children and their families to pursue justice.
Displaced Children: UNHCR estimated that, of the approximately 2.75 million Syrians in the country, 934,000 were school-age children. Of these individuals approximately 110,200 lived in government-run camps, where they had a high rate of access to education (90 percent). Of the other school-age Syrian children in the country living outside of camps, the government and The UN Children’s Fund estimated that only 30 percent were in school during the year. Many worked illegally or begged on the street to help support their families (see section 2.d. and section 7.c.).
It was unclear at year’s end how violence in the Southeast, including internal population displacements, affected children. According to the Diyarbakir-based Gap Municipalities Union, approximately 60 to 70 percent of its estimate of 400,000 IDPs (since August 2015) were women and children.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Jewish residents continued to emigrate due to anti-Semitism. According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, the number of Jews in the country dropped to below 17,000 during the year, from 19,500 in 2005.
Jewish residents continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and increased terrorist threats in the country.
In January vandals spray-painted graffiti on the Istipol Synagogue in Istanbul after a prayer service was held there for the first time in 65 years. The message, “Terrorist Israel, there is Allah,” appeared to link the Jewish community to Israeli policy.
In February social media users accused a Yeni Safak columnist of collusion with Jews and called for his death after he publicly criticized the AKP during a television appearance.
After the March 19 Da’esh suicide bombing attack in Istanbul, Irem Aktas, AKP chairwoman for public relations and media in the city’s Eyup municipality, tweeted, “I wish that the wounded Israeli tourists were all dead.” Media reported that Aktas subsequently resigned from her position.
In May the first Jewish wedding held in more than four decades at the newly renovated Grand Synagogue in Edirne triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic comments on social media. A popular video streaming service that offered a live feed of the wedding, some social media users wrote, “Kill the Jews” and “Such a pity that Hitler didn’t finish the job.”
In August a columnist in the progovernment Yeni Safak newspaper linked July 15 coup plotters with Jews by claiming that the mother of Fethullah Gulen had a Jewish name.
In December progovernment columnist Ersin Ramoglu wrote that Fethullah Gulen “can smell money and power instantly because he is a Jew.” He went on to link Jews to brothels and called them “liars expert at disguise.”
Despite anti-Semitic comments by media and incidents of vandalism against the Jewish community, the government took a number of positive steps during the year. The country has commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) since 2011. In February the country marked the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the Struma off the country’s Black Sea coast, which led to the death of 768 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Istanbul’s governor and Jewish community leaders attended the commemoration. The Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul commended security measures taken by the government in response to reports of specific terror threats against Jewish schools during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution permits positive discrimination favoring persons with disabilities, and the law prohibits discrimination against them in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.
The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The government, nonetheless, continued to make little progress implementing the law, and access in most cities remained extremely limited.
The Disabled and Senior Citizens Directorate General, under the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The State Personnel Presidency reported that during the year there were 5,812 personnel with disabilities newly employed in public institutions, while the Ministry of National Education employed 498 persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 199 social service centers assisting vulnerable individuals, including persons with disabilities. The ministry stated there were 288,489 special education students in schools (prekindergarten through high school). The majority of children with disabilities were “mainstreamed” in public schools. The Ministry of National Education reported there were 1,142 special education centers for students whose disability precluded them from participating in regular public schools.
The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education. The Education Reform Initiative, a domestic NGO, stated that, during the 2014-15 school year, only 2.7 percent of preschool-age children with disabilities had access to education services.
The military did not screen for mental disabilities prior to conscription, resulting in both a lack of data and a lack of services for individuals who may need them, according to the HRJP.
The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Caferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully. The HRJP claimed that the government’s failure to recognize national minorities resulted in a failure to identify specific needs, led to discrimination, and left vulnerable populations unprotected.
Although official figures did not exist, more than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and to speak Kurdish dialects. Kurdish communities were disproportionately affected by PKK-government clashes. Several communities experienced government-imposed curfews, cuts in services such as electricity or water, and disruptions in medical care, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at ridding areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally used in their daily lives, on the condition that schools were subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, while others had separate departments for Kurdish language. The law also allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language. The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services.
Although Kurdish is officially allowed in private education and in public discourse, the government did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. On February 21, the Diyarbakir office of the Ministry of National Education forced the closure of a Kurdish-language primary school operating in the province because public education in languages other than Turkish is not allowed. In October the government used a state-of-emergency decree to close several private Kurdish-language schools, including a school that had been giving parents grade reports in Kurdish since 2014. The closures left some 238 students without a school in the middle of the school year. The schools were reportedly closed for conducting “unauthorized activities.”
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties reported that they faced increased problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association. Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets were closed by government decree after the July 15 coup attempt. On November 11, the Ministry of Interior announced the closure of 370 civil society groups with alleged links to terror groups. Many had alleged links to the PKK and were predominantly located in the Southeast.
Public gatherings on April 24 to commemorate events relating to the Armenian issue and the tragic events of 1915 were peaceful and received police protection where necessary.
On January 19, thousands of persons marched in Istanbul to commemorate the life of Turkish-Armenian journalist and former Agoseditor in chief, Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian, and to call for justice in connection with his murder. Dink was killed in Istanbul in 2007. In 2011 the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court convicted a shooter as well as an organizer in connection with Dink’s death. In 2012 members of the Trabzon police department were convicted of criminal negligence, although their case was remanded in 2013 and, in 2014 joined with a case against public officials in Istanbul and Ankara.
In response to a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that the government’s inadequate investigation of Dink’s killing violated the rights of the Dink family, the government opened several negligence cases against police involved in the investigation. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office extended the investigations to include former gendarmerie officials who had allegedly neglected intelligence reports about plans to murder Dink or allegedly had direct contact with the gunman. In August authorities arrested 14 gendarmerie officials as part of the investigation. Four were also arrested for allegedly being members of the Gulen movement. The case against a number of former police officials, including former chief of the Police Intelligence Bureau, Ramazan Akyurek, continued at year’s end. By December 2015 Istanbul courts had indicted 26 persons for their role in the killing, many of them allegedly affiliated with the Gulen movement.
The HRJP alleged that suicides and suspicious deaths in the military most frequently involved Kurdish individuals.
On April 30, the cabinet approved a national strategy on the social inclusion of Roma. The strategy established goals in the areas of education, employment, housing, health, social services, and assistance. Observers estimated there were more than two million Roma in the country, and the need for improvement in areas covered by the new strategy remained strong. Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and continued housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. The Romani community also continued to face problems with access to education, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in taking advantage of government offers to subsidize rent on new apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. Roma also reported workplace discrimination and asserted their children often were singled out in the classroom, leading to high dropout rates. Early marriage also remained a problem in the Romani community.
In line with the new Romani strategy, the government identified 12 provinces in which to begin pilot projects for social inclusion of Romani citizens. The project was in its initial stages at year’s end.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech rather than to protect minorities. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted that LGBTI definitions were not included in the law but reported that protections for LGBTI individuals are provided under a general “gender” concept in the constitution. KAOS-GL, a domestic NGO focused on LGBTI rights, maintained that due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities withheld social protection from them.
The law does not explicitly discriminate against LGBTI individuals; however, legal references to “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for discrimination by employers and abuse by police.
During the year LGBTI individuals continued to experience discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. LGBTI prostitutes reported that police detained them to extract payoffs. LGBTI advocates accused courts and prosecutors of creating an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in prostitution. Human rights attorneys reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons aggressively. They often did not arrest suspects or hold them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. The “unjustifiable provocation” provision states that punishment “will be reduced if the perpetrator commits a crime under the influence of rage or strong, sudden passion caused by a wrongful act.” Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of those who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal upheld these verdicts based, in part, on the “immoral nature” of the victim.
Violence against LGBTI individuals continued throughout the year, including several murders. The NGO Red Umbrella reported 227 assaults and murders of LGBTI individuals through October 1. In one example, in August the burned and mutilated body of a transgender sex worker and LGBTI activist, Hande Kader, was found in Istanbul’s Sariyer district. There was no report of an arrest in the case as of year’s end.
Prior to “pride week” in June, the country’s LGBTI community reported receiving hate messages and threats from a variety of sources. Istanbul security officials provided police protection for some pride week events. On June 19, police dispersed crowds using tear gas when activists attempted to hold a “trans pride” parade. The Istanbul Governor’s Office banned the LGBTI community’s annual pride parade, which had been planned for June 26, citing security concerns. Police actively prevented those who gathered, nonetheless, for the pride parade, and also prevented an anti-LGBTI group that had gathered the same day to protest parade participants, arresting two of the protesters. The government did not respond to allegations of disproportionate use of force by police against transgender pride activists, police intimidation, or calls by groups for anti-LGBTI violence.
On November 17, an Ankara court found three persons guilty of assaulting transgender activist and sex worker, Kemalita Ordek. The three were sentenced to 17 years, six years, and four and one-half years in prison, respectively, for sexual assault, physical attack, unlawful confinement, threat, insult, and theft. The charges resulted from a July 2015 attack on Ordek, the chair of an NGO dedicated to transgender issues, in his home in Ankara, after which police subjected him to belittlement, threats, and further abuse for several hours.
There were active LGBTI organizations in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Gaziantep, Eskisehir, and Diyarbakir, and unofficial groups in smaller cities and university campuses. Groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups in small cities complained that rectors had denied them permission to organize. LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines. They also reported challenges finding office space due to discrimination from landlords.
LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Human rights organizations complained the media and medical professionals often did not respect the privacy of individuals with HIV/AIDS. Many persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. The Positive Living Association noted that the country lacked laws protecting persons with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing.
Due to pervasive social stigma against HIV/AIDS, many individuals feared that the results of tests for HIV would be used against them and, therefore, avoided testing. Since medical benefits are conditional on employment status, LGBTI persons who were unemployed or unofficially employed due to discriminatory hiring practices had difficulty obtaining treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Armenians, Alevis, and Christians were regularly the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. On August 12, two unidentified assailants wrote racist graffiti on the wall of Uskudar Surp Hac Tibrevank high school in Istanbul, an Armenian school and the school of slain ethnic Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. The school’s walls were scrawled with phrases including, “Torment to Armenians” and “I brought the hate of Kursat.” (Kursat is a Turkic historic figure linked to Turkish nationalism since the 1940s.) The incident received minimal coverage in progovernment media.
On October 18, a member of parliament, Garo Paylan, filed a criminal complaint against President Erdogan concerning his alleged disregard of anti-Armenian chants shouted during a speech in Trabzon on October 15. Paylan directed the complaint to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, claiming that Erdogan violated a law banning “inciting hatred and hostility among peoples and denigration.” At the October 15 speech, the audience allegedly chanted “Armenian bastards cannot discourage us” throughout the speech, while the president and attending ministers and members organizations did not stop them.
Following the July 15 coup attempt, many Alevis reported threats of violence and reported that police prevented attacks in Alevi neighborhoods. On July 17, protesters entered an Alevi neighborhood in Malatya shouting slogans related to the failed coup and denigrating Alevis. On August 18, an armed group fired several shots in front of the Garip Dede Cemevi (house of worship) in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece suburb. There were no reported casualties; as of year’s end, police had not identified the attackers.
After the failed coup, progovernment news commentators published false stories alleging links between the vilified Fethullah Gulen movement and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Christian groups, and the Jewish community. Government officials did not dispute the allegations.