Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes gender-based violence and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. Women’s groups reported that the government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect survivors.
Gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. NGOs continued to report higher rates of domestic violence reports during periodic COVID-19 lockdowns implemented throughout the year.
The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an NGO dedicated to monitoring violence against women, estimated that men killed at least 415 women during the year, compared with 410 in 2020. Government authorities did not consistently release statistics on gender-based violence. The minister of interior stated that 266 women were killed in episodes of domestic violence in 2020.
The law 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 mandates 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 violence prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. In 2020 the Ministry of Family and Social Services reported there were 145 women’s shelters nationwide with capacity for 3,482 persons. In July the minister of family and social services announced that 55,882 individuals, including 35,311 women and 20,551 children, received services from women’s shelters in 2020. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Shelter capacity was further reduced as a result of COVID-19 prevention requirements. Lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTQI+ women as well as for women with older children.
The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and a web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). In May the Ministry of Interior stated that since its inception in 2018, the KADES application had received 138,978 reports of which 73,417 were legitimate threats and that authorities had responded to each. The ministry did not specify types of response. NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in response to calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence and that women were at times directed to mediation centers or told to reconcile with their husbands.
In March, President Erdogan announced the country’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention in 2012; its withdrawal from the convention became effective July 1. Women’s groups strongly criticized the withdrawal, expressing concern that it would result in a weakening of protections for survivors of gender-based violence and foster impunity for perpetrators. Women’s and human rights groups asserted that the withdrawal, which was accomplished by presidential decree without consulting parliament, violated the country’s constitution and filed court challenges. The constitution specifies that parliament must ratify international agreements but does not address withdrawal. The Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, upheld the presidential decree in November, but appeals were ongoing. Since the country’s withdrawal from the convention, women’s groups that worked with survivors of gender-based violence reported that they were less likely to approach authorities, believing that the withdrawal signaled a lessening of the government’s commitment to aid survivors.
Government officials, including President Erdogan, stated that the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention did not signal a diminished government commitment to combating gender-based violence. The Presidency’s Directorate of Communications issued a statement that the withdrawal resulted from the convention’s “hijack[ing]” by those “attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values” (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
In July the government released its National Action Plan for Combatting Violence Against Women (2021-2025). Women’s groups largely dismissed the plan as a tactical effort to stem public criticism following the Istanbul Convention withdrawal and stressed that prior action plans did little to curb the rise in gender-based violence in the country.
Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported police rarely enforced them effectively. According to a report compiled by the opposition CHP, courts rejected 7 percent of restraining order requests in 2020. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.
In May, Zeynep Erdogan was stabbed and killed by her husband, Mehmet Erdogan, in Ankara. According to press and NGO reporting, Erdogan had filed multiple restraining orders against the husband, who was on trial for domestic violence against her during the time of the killing. Police arrested Mehmet Erdogan following the killing.
Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “unjustifiable provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. The criminal code allows defendants to receive a reduced sentence if the offense was committed “in a state of anger or severe distress caused by an unjust act.” For example, in May press outlets reported that a Konya court reduced the sentence of convicted felon Bekir Erol, who killed his wife, Tuba Erol, in 2019 by stabbing her 46 times. Erol initially received a life sentence with no possibility of parole. The court ruled to reduce the sentence to 18 years and four months on the grounds of “good behavior” and “unjustifiable provocation.”
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were occasional reports of “honor killings” of women, mainly in the southeast. In October the press reported that a man stabbed and killed his mother in public in Istanbul after the family discovered she had an affair 20 years earlier. Police arrested the suspect.
The criminal code prescribes life imprisonment for killings perpetrated with the motive of “custom,” but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors, including “unjustifiable provocation.”
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported, however, that authorities rarely enforced these laws.
Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened.
Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 28,083 sexual harassment cases in 2020, a significant increase from the previous year. Prosecutors did not prosecute 43 percent of the cases. In cases that went to court, the courts acquitted the accused perpetrator in 16 percent of cases, convicted and sentenced the perpetrator in 40 percent, and suspended the sentence through a verdict postponement judgement in 25 percent of the cases. The high rate of verdict postponement contributed to perceptions of impunity for sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
There were no government restrictions or policies designed to prevent information on medical treatment affecting reproductive health from reaching vulnerable populations, including ethnic minorities and refugees.
The UN Population Fund determined that 11.5 percent of women in the country had unmet needs in family planning based on data from the 2018 Turkey Demographic and Health Survey conducted by Hacettepe University’s Institute of Population Studies. The survey, conducted every five years, found 97 percent of women knew of at least one family prevention method. At least 70 percent of married women reported using at least one family planning method.
An analysis of historical survey data from 2013 and 2018 by the NGO Turkish Family Health and Planning Foundation (TAPV) found that there was significant unmet demand for family planning counseling and services, particularly among older women with at least one child. Women in Northeast Anatolia, Istanbul, West Marmara, and Southeast Anatolia regions had the highest rate of unmet family planning needs in the country. TAPV concluded that the shrinking role of public health-care providers in reproductive health (vice private health-care providers) negatively impacted accessibility to family planning resources, particularly among lower income women. Women could access contraception methods for free in government-funded primary health-care units and hospitals or from pharmacies and private practitioners for a fee.
An interview-based survey of health providers conducted by TAPV in 2020 found that the COVID-19 pandemic further limited access to contraception and family planning counseling, while the country maintained maternity services, such as pregnancy follow-ups.
A 2021 report in BMC Women’s Health based on interviews in Istanbul found that religious factors played the leading role in women’s choice of a particular family planning method, with less religious women more likely to choose modern contraception methods. The study found that religious belief did not have a direct influence on decisions of whether to employ family planning. The report also noted that men had limited involvement in family planning decision making.
Access to family planning methods and information on managing reproductive health was more difficult for many of the four million refugees in the country. A 2020 Reproductive Health Journal analysis of the sexual and reproductive health of Syrian refugee women stated the rate of postnatal care was inadequate. The review reported a 24 percent rate of modern contraceptive method use among all age groups of Syrian girls and women, with estimated rates of unmet family planning needs at 35 percent and only 20 percent of Syrian women having regular gynecological examinations.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Based on data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the labor participation rate for men was 78 percent and only 35 percent for women. A joint 2020 study by TUIK and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated the gender pay gap in in the country at 15.6 percent. Women were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic economically.
The constitution permits measures to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers.
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 Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to fully exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, race, or color and provides for equality in the eyes of the law, but authorities did not consistently enforce these provisions.
More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut.
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and five universities had Kurdish-language departments. A survey by the Ismail Besikci Foundation of 58 academics working in Kurdish studies found that 63 percent reported practicing self-censorship in their classes and 70 percent reported practicing self-censorship in their academic research and publications.
The law 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, but this right was not protected. The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services.
In October police detained and released on the same day a Kurdish shop owner in Siirt Province after his comments to an opposition politician circulated in a social media video. As shown in the video, the man stated, “Our language is denied, our identity is denied, ‘Kurdistan’ is denied.” Prosecutors launched an investigation into the statements for “making propaganda of a terrorist organization.”
There were several attacks against ethnic Kurds that human rights organizations alleged were racially motivated. In July assailants shot and killed seven members of the Dedeogullari family in Konya. A mob attacked the family earlier in May. Family relatives alleged the May attack was perpetrated by ultranationalists affiliated with the extremist group the Grey Wolves. The Konya Public Prosecutor’s Office denied that the attack was racially motivated, attributing it to a long-standing dispute between the Dedeogullari and another family. Police arrested 13 suspects in connection with the killings. Prosecutors indicted 11 suspects for the killings. Their trial was ongoing at year’s end.
In September the Kiziltepe Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against JinNews reporter Oznur Deger. Deger reported that police questioned her about her reporting on the Dedeogullari family killings and social media posts regarding her Kurdish identity.
In May police arrested three persons who attacked a Kurdish family visiting the southeastern province of Mersin from Erbil, Iraq. The family alleged the assailants used anti-Kurdish slurs and the hand sign of the ultranationalist extremist group the Grey Wolves during the attack.
Romani communities reported discrimination and lack of access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Community members recounted that majority of community members do not complete formal education and as a result are unable to secure employment. Community representatives indicated that more than 90 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many had jobs in the informal economy.
The government adopted a national Romani strategy in 2016 but underfunded the initiative. Romani advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also reported that Romani communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the national government did little to provide economic assistance to the communities, particularly since most Roma worked in the informal economy as garbage collectors, flower vendors, and musicians who perform at restaurants or social events. With the imposition of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social-distancing precautions, many Roma found themselves cut off from their livelihoods and without access to the social safety net available to those who could apply for unemployment benefits. Community representatives reported that some families lost housing and utilities due to inability to pay their bills. For instance, 60 families in Izmir relocated to a tent camp after being evicted from their apartments. Romani children also faced difficulty accessing distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government did not compensate Roma forcefully removed from tent cities in Cesme in 2020.
Armenian minority groups reported hate speech and coded language directed against the Armenian community, including from high-level government officials. The Armenian Patriarchate reported receiving anonymous threats around Armenian Remembrance Day.
In April independent parliamentarian Umit Ozdag threatened Garo Paylan, an HDP member of parliament and ethnic-Armenian Turk, after Paylan criticized the fact that streets and schools were still named after Talat Pasha, the Ottoman Empire’s minister of interior during the Armenian genocide. Ozdag responded, “Talat Pasha didn’t expel patriotic Armenians but those who stabbed us in the back like you. When the time comes, you’ll also have a Talat Pasha experience, and you should have it.”
Birth Registration: There was 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 convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country may not receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.
Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education and the progress made by the nationwide literacy campaign launched in 2018, some families were able to keep female students home, particularly in religiously conservative rural areas, where girls often dropped out of school after completing their mandatory primary education. The reliance on online education platforms during COVID-19 lockdowns in the 2020-21 school year negatively affected both boys and girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged families lacking internet access and further exacerbated learning inequalities. In May the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim Sen) reported that four million students were not able to access distance education during the previous school year. In a survey, 44 percent of the teachers interviewed by the union said the attendance rate in their classes was less than 20 percent. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute 2020 data, 98 percent of men and 87 percent of women had a primary education, while 50 percent of men and 38 percent of women had a secondary education. A total of 20 percent of men and 17 percent of women had a postsecondary education.
Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. The Turkish constitution prohibits any language other than Turkish to be taught “as a mother tongue.”
Child Abuse: The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to children who are victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported inconsistent implementation and called for expansion of support for victims. The law 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.
By law if the victim of abuse is between the ages of 12 and 18, molestation results in a sentence of three to eight years in prison, sexual abuse in a sentence of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is younger than 12, conviction of molestation results in a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, conviction of sexual abuse a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, and conviction of rape a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.
According to Ministry of Justice statistics, courts opened 22,497 legal cases related to child sexual abuse and sentenced 12,064 persons to imprisonment for child sexual abuse in 2020. Child advocates stated that reports of child abuse increased during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and school closures.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.
Comprehensive statistics on child, early, and forced marriage were unavailable because the marriages often took place unofficially. NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian community in the country. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. A study of child, early, and forced marriage by the UN Population Fund and Hacettepe University released in December 2020 found that the proportion of women who had married before the age of 18 in the 20-to-24 age group declined between 1993 and 2008. The decline did not continue between 2008 and 2018, however, and the rate of child, early, and forced marriage increased in West Marmara, Aegean, Mediterranean and Southeast Anatolia regions. In 2020 according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, 4.6 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18.
Human rights organizations reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic there were incidences of families “selling” girls for marriage to Turkish men as an economic coping mechanism. Hacettepe University’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before the age of 15 and 38 percent married before the age of 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among individuals in the Turkish and Syrian populations in southeastern provinces.
Women’s rights groups stated that there were instances of forced marriages and bride kidnapping, particularly in rural areas, although the practices were not widespread.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child commercial sexual exploitation is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence. The government did not publish data on rates of sexual exploitation of children.
NGOs such as ECPAT noted that young Syrian female refugees were particularly vulnerable to being exploited by criminal organizations and pressured into sex work, and this practice was particularly prevalent among adolescent girls.
The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.
Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns regarding anti-Semitism.
Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year, increasing during the outbreak of conflict in West Bank and the Gaza strip in May. Addressing Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, President Erdogan deployed anti-Semitic rhetoric, stating, “They [Israelis] are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They are only satisfied by sucking their blood.” Turkish officials denied that the statement was anti-Semitic.
In July, Huseyin Hakki Kahveci, a writer and journalist, linked the massive wildfires in Turkey to Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, the chair of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States. Kahveci wrote on Twitter that the location of the fires corresponded to the rabbi’s route as part of his travel for a Jewish heritage project. He wrote, “Rabbis know Kabbalah-Black Magic well.” The Turkish Jewish Community, a foundation representing the Jewish community, announced that it would file a criminal complaint against Kahveci.
To combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion, the government continued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing a statement for the occasion. The Presidency’s Directorate of Communications established a website dedicated to the memory of victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. The website included video messages from President Erdogan, the chief rabbi, and the president of the Turkish Jewish Community. In March the government donated $36,000 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
In February the government for the sixth year in a row commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration. As in previous years, President Erdogan issued public messages in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, provides details on the country’s history during the Holocaust and activities for Holocaust restitution, remembrance, education, and archival access (see https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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. Government guidelines required official information materials to be provided in accessible formats. The law requires that transit on public transportation be provided free of charge to persons with disabilities. The government, however, made limited progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained restricted. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service accessibility problems for individuals with disabilities, particularly in the health sector.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.
The Ministry of Family and Social Services is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. Most children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.
According to Ministry of Family and Social Services data, the public sector employed 62,337 persons with disabilities as of December. Some NGOs representing persons with disabilities reported delays in appointment of candidates with disabilities to government positions. In June a group called the Platform for Disabled Teachers Waiting for Appointment staged protests in Ankara demanding the immediate appointment of thousands of teachers with disabilities whose appointments were delayed due to COVID-19.
The private sector employed approximately 100,000 of the two and a half million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include at least 3 percent representation in their workforce of employees with disabilities. The public-sector quota is 4 percent. There was no information available on the implementation of fines for accountability.
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, a situation aggravated by distance learning implemented as a COVID-19 precaution. NGOs reported that public distance-education programs created to enable distance learning under COVID-19 did not provide sign interpretation or subtitles for hearing impaired students. According to a June report by the Ministry of Family and Social Services, during the 2019-20 school year (the latest period for which data was available), 425,774 students with disabilities were in school, with 318,300 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. A Ministry of Family and Social Services program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.
Many persons with HIV and AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV and AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV and AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. Human rights advocates reported that some employers required HIV/AIDS testing prior to employment to screen positive applicants. HIV-positive individuals also reported issues in receiving exemption from compulsory military service. In September the Pozitif-iz Association reported that it received 42 complaints of human rights abuses in 2020, the majority related to health service-provider discrimination (52 percent) followed by employment discrimination (31 percent). The NGO reported instances of doctors citing COVID-19 prevention measures, such as government guidance to postpone elective procedures, as an excuse to deny treatment to HIV-positive individuals.
The government implemented an HIV/AIDS control program for 2019-24 to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also incorporated HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
During the year LGBTQI+ individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against LGBTQI+ persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police rarely arrested suspects or held 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. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed or assaulted LGBTQI+ individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTQI+ advocates reported police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.
In March a Syrian transgender woman was severely injured and lost one eye after a hydrochloric acid attack in Istanbul. An Istanbul court initially sentenced the perpetrator, the victim’s former boyfriend, to 11 years in prison for the attack, but it subsequently reduced the sentence to six years on the grounds of “unjustifiable provocation.” Friends of the victim alleged that hospital staff expressed homophobic attitudes towards the victim.
Numerous LGBTQI+ organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. NGOs reported that police targeted LGBTQI+ individuals using disproportionate force while intervening in demonstrations. University officials limited LGBTQI+ students’ ability to organize and stage pride events.
Human rights activists attributed what they assessed to be increased public anti-LGBTQI+ sentiment and incidence of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals to an uptick in anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric by government officials amplified through progovernment media.
Government officials increased the targeting of the LGBTQI+ community after an art exhibit staged by students during the Bogazici University protests in January that displayed a picture of the Muslim holy site, the Ka’aba, with superimposed rainbow flags (see section 1.c.). Government officials baselessly blamed the LGBTQI+ community for the exhibit. Minister of Interior Soylu tweeted, “Four LGBT perverts were detained for disrespecting the Ka’aba at Bogazici University.” In a February 2 interview, Soylu alleged that Western countries were spreading the LGBTQI+ “movement” to Turkey to destroy its values by funding LGBTQI+ organizations in the country. President Erdogan told AKP party members, “God willing, we will bring our youth to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth in the nation’s glorious history. You are the youth on the keyboards of computers, you are not the LGBT youth. You are not a youth that vandalizes; on the very contrary, you are a youth making the broken hearts stand on their feet again.”
Police detained seven students associated with the exhibit and raided the LGBTQI+ student club on the Bogazici University campus. The students continued to face charges of “inciting hatred and insulting religious values” at year’s end. Police confiscated pride flags and banners during the raid and alleged finding a PKK-linked book. The university shut down the student club following the raid. In March police detained 12 other students for displaying pride flags during a demonstration. The students were subsequently released but continued to face charges for violating the law on meetings and demonstrations. Also in March the Adana Security Directorate issued a ban on displays of pride flags and posters during the Women’s Day march.
The Presidency Communications Directorate attributed the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention to the convention being “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.” LGBTQI+ groups reported concern that following the country’s withdrawal from the convention, the government would weaken protections for LGBTQI+ victims of gender-based violence or follow the withdrawal with anti-LGBTQI+ legislation.
In June police intervened to disperse the Istanbul Pride March, using force, tear gas, and rubber projectiles. Police detained 47 demonstrators and observers, including an Agence France-Presse photojournalist. All were later released. The Istanbul Governor’s Office refused to issue a permit for the march, citing threats to public morality and the “inappropriate” nature of the event, among other reasons. Police also intervened and detained demonstrators during smaller pride events in Istanbul, Ankara, and Eskisehir.
An opposition parliamentarian reported that the student loan and housing board under the Ministry of Youth and Sport subsequently retaliated against several university students for participating in Eskisehir pride events, cancelling their scholarships and expelling them from government dorms.
In October an Ankara court acquitted 18 Middle East Technical University students and alumni and one faculty member for organizing a pride march on campus in 2019. The court ruled to fine one of the students for insulting a police officer, but the sentence was deferred and could be challenged on appeal.
The criminal code 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. LGBTQI+ definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTQI+ individuals.
Provisions of the law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.
In September, Larin Kayatas, a transgender doctor, reported that the Ministry of Health expelled her from service on the basis of her LGBTQI+ identity after finding that her social media posts were not “in line with public morality.” Kayatas alleged that a colleague had filed a complaint regarding her social media messages with the Presidency’s Communications Center, which precipitated a disciplinary investigation.
Human rights organizations reported that some LGBTQI+ individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTQI+ individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTQI+ community. In June the NGO KAOS GL reported that a doctor in Istanbul refused treatment to a transgender woman and shouted transphobic insults at her after forcefully pushing her from the examination room. Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, as landlords refused to rent to LGBTQI+ individuals or charged them significantly higher prices.
LGBTQI+ organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines. Authorities audited LGBTQI+ organizations more frequently than NGOs focused on other issues.
Dating and social networking sites catering to the LGBTQI+ community faced content blocks. In August, Apple removed the social networking application Hornet from its Turkey store, based on a 2020 court order stemming from a complaint filed by the Ankara provincial Jandarma command. Details on the case or the court’s reasoning were not publicly available. Access to Hornet’s website also remained blocked. Authorities have blocked the dating site and application Grindr since 2013.
Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolic Christians, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. Vandals continued to target disused minority religious sites, including an Armenian Apostolic Christian church in Kayseri and two Greek Orthodox churches in the Black Sea region. In March several newspapers reported that police were investigating the burning of the gate of a disused Istanbul synagogue as a possible case of arson.
Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.
International protection status holders and temporary protection beneficiaries also faced increased societal discrimination and violence during the year (see section 2.d.).