Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a 600-seat legislature. The unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. The most recent presidential and parliamentary elections took place on June 24; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and campaign environment that restricted the ability of opposition candidates to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely, including the continued detention of a presidential candidate.
Civilian leaders maintained effective control over security forces. The government dismissed thousands of additional police and military personnel on terrorism-related grounds using state of emergency decrees and new antiterror laws as part of its response to the failed coup attempt of July 2016.
The country experienced significant political changes during the year. The two-year-long state of emergency–imposed following the 2016 coup attempt–ended July 19, but had far-reaching effects on the country’s society and institutions, restricting the exercise of many fundamental freedoms. New laws and decrees codified some provisions from the state of emergency; subsequent antiterror legislation continued its restrictions on fundamental freedoms and compromised judicial independence and rule of law. By year’s end, authorities had dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs, arrested or imprisoned more than 80,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on terrorism-related grounds since the coup attempt, primarily for alleged ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt, and designated by the Turkish government as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”).
Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killing, suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and three Turkish-national employees of the U.S. Mission to Turkey for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; political prisoners, including numerous elected officials and academics; closure of media outlets and criminal prosecution of individuals for criticizing government policies or officials; blocking websites and content; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement; and violence against women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and members of other minorities.
The government continued to take limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity for such abuses remained a problem. Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization and its affiliates continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level compared with previous years, and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, PKK terrorists, and an unknown number of civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for any wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counter-PKK security operations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There continued to be some unconfirmed reports of disappearances during the year, some of which human rights groups alleged were politically motivated. Human rights groups claimed 28 individuals disappeared or were the victims of politically motivated kidnapping attempts. For example, Umit Horzum disappeared in December 2017. In April, 133 days after his disappearance, unknown individuals delivered him to police. Following 11 days in police custody, the court released him on April 27.
The government engaged in a worldwide effort to apprehend suspected members of “FETO”, a term the government applied to the followers of Fethullah Gulen also known as members of the Gulen movement. In July Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed that the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had facilitated the return of more than 100 alleged “FETO” members from 18 countries. In some cases, cooperative governments deported wanted individuals without due process. For example, Turan and Meydan Television reported two Turkish citizens were transferred from Azerbaijan to Turkey without due process in February. Kyivpost.com reported July 16 that on July 12 and 15, MIT brought back from Ukraine two alleged “FETO” members and that a Turkish government official thanked Ukraine’s security services for their assistance. In cooperation with Kosovo authorities, MIT brought six suspects from Kosovo to Turkey in late March.
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 forces employed these tactics. On February 27, UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, expressed serious concerns about the rising allegations of torture and other mistreatment in Turkish police custody. Melzer said he was alarmed by allegations that large numbers of individuals suspected of links to the Gulen movement or PKK were exposed to brutal interrogation techniques aimed at extracting forced confessions or coercing detainees to incriminate others. Reported abuse included severe beatings, electrical shocks, exposure to icy water, sleep deprivation, threats, insults, and sexual assault. The special rapporteur said authorities appeared not to have taken any serious measures to investigate these allegations or to hold perpetrators accountable.
Human rights groups reported in December that torture and mistreatment in police custody occurred at reduced levels compared with 2017, although they contended that victim intimidation may account for reduced reporting. Reports indicated that police also abused detainees outside police station premises. The HRFT reported that, during the first 11 months of the year, it received 538 complaints related to abuse while in custody, 280 of which alleged torture or inhumane treatment. The HRFT also reported intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common and that victims hesitated to report abuse due to fear of reprisal. Separately, the Human Rights Association reported that, in the first 11 months of the year, it received 2,719 complaints of abuse by security forces, including 284 complaints related to abuse while in detention facilities, 175 complaints of abuse outside detention facilities, and 2,260 complaints of abuse during demonstrations. The government has not released information on whether it undertook investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prison or detention centers during the year.
The government asserted that it followed a “zero tolerance” policy for torture. HRW maintained, however, that it was “not aware of any serious measures that have been taken to investigate credible allegations of torture.” In its World Report 2018, HRW stated: “Cases of torture and ill-treatment in police custody were widely reported through 2017, especially by individuals detained under the antiterror law, marking a reverse in long-standing progress, despite the government’s stated zero tolerance for torture policy. There were widespread reports of police beating detainees, subjecting them to prolonged stress positions and threats of rape, threats to lawyers, and interference with medical examinations.” According to 2017 Ministry of Justice statistics, the government opened 84 criminal cases related to allegations of torture. The government has not released data on its investigations into alleged torture.
The Civil Society Association in the Penal System (CISST) reported complaints of physical violence by prison staff and noted complaints from prisoners in Tarsus and Elazig prisons, who reported inhumane treatment and psychological abuse.
A June report by the Diyarbakir, Van, and Hakkari Bar Associations alleged Turkish soldiers tortured four shepherds in Korgan village, Hakkari Province on May 31. The report asserted that shepherd Nasir Tas suffered severe injuries after soldiers allegedly repeatedly held his head under water.
According to press reports, on June 8, in Istanbul, police detained and beat 22 high school students while they were handcuffed in a police van.
According to media reports, some military conscripts endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in suicide. In May soldiers severely beat a Kurdish-speaking soldier in Van province for speaking Kurdish. Fethi Aydemir suffered serious injury to the skull and internal organ damage as a result. In a separate incident in Gaziantep, a soldier was attacked by fellow soldiers for having a photograph of Selahattin Demirtas, jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on his smartphone.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison facilities in general met international standards for physical conditions in many respects, with certain exceptions. Overcrowding (particularly following the mass detentions after the 2016 coup attempt) and lack of access to adequate health care remained problems.
Physical Conditions: As of November the HRA estimated a total prison inmate population of 260,144 in government-operated detention facilities with a capacity of 211,766 inmates. Prison overcrowding remained a significant problem.
Children were housed in separate prison facilities, where available; otherwise, children were held in separate sections within separate male and female adult prisons. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities with convicted prisoners.
The government has not released data on inmate deaths due to physical conditions or actions of staff members.
Human rights organizations asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, and lighting.
Although authorities asserted that doctors were assigned to each prison, a Ministry of Justice Prison and Correctional Facilities official reported to parliament in February that there were 271 doctors, of whom only eight were full-time, serving a prison population of 235,888. Human rights associations expressed serious concern regarding the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. The opposition HDP reported in August that there were 1,154 sick prisoners in the country’s prisons; more than 400 of them were in serious condition.
Human rights groups and media reported that, on April 28, prisoner Halime Gulsu died in a Mersin Province prison because she was unable to receive treatment for lupus.
Credible reports suggested that some doctors would not sign their names to medical reports alleging torture due to fear of reprisal, meaning victims were often unable to get medical documentation that would help prove their claims. According to one reported incident in January, an Istanbul University student, Berkay Ustabas, along with two other prisoners were stripped naked by Kirikkale prison authorities and subjected to a “welcome beating” with kicks, punches, and truncheons. According to Ustabas’ lawyer, the prison doctor refused to document the physical signs of abuse.
Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-ranging counterterrorism law, to keep prisoners whom they deem dangerous to public security in pretrial detention, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.
Administration: At times authorities investigated credible allegations of abuse and inhumane or degrading conditions, but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or take action to hold perpetrators accountable. The government did not release data on investigations (both criminal and administrative) of alleged prison violence or mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed prison visits by some observers, including parliamentarians. There were no visits by an international body to the country’s prisons during the year. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited the country in May 2017 and interviewed a large number of prisoners at various sites. As of year’s end, the government had not approved the public release of the CPT report and findings.
The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The Civil Society Association in the Penal System (CISST) published a report on prison conditions in June, based on information provided by parliamentarians, correspondence with inmates, lawyers, inmates’ family members, and press reports.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, but numerous credible reports indicated the government generally did not observe these requirements. The Ministry of Justice reported in September that since July 15, 2016, more than 600,000 persons had been subjected to some type of “criminal procedure” (e.g., questioning, investigation, detention, arrest, judicial control, or a ban on travel). According to media reports, more than 80,000 persons had been detained or arrested under the state of emergency and following its expiration. The Ministry of Justice also reported that, between July 2016 and July 2018, “investigations have been opened into 612,347 persons alleged to be founders, executives, or members of armed organizations.” A majority of these were reportedly detained for alleged ties to the Gulen movement or the PKK, often with little due process or access to the evidence underlying the accusations against them (see section 2.a.).
The courts in some cases applied the law unevenly. For example, an Ankara court acknowledged the parliamentary immunity of HDP parliamentarian Kemal Bulbul and suspended his trial while a different court refused to accept the parliamentary immunity of Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentarian Enis Berberoglu and upheld his conviction, although execution of the sentence was suspended pending the completion of his parliamentary tenure in 2023.
Under antiterror legislation adopted by parliament on July 26, the government may detain without charge (or appearance before a judge) a suspect for 48 hours for “individual” offenses and 96 hours for “collective” offenses (see Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees, below).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in large urban areas. The Jandarma, a paramilitary force also under Interior Ministry control, is responsible for rural areas and specific border sectors where smuggling is common, although the military has overall responsibility for border control and overall external security. There were reports that Turkish border guards shot and killed Syrians fleeing the civil war seeking to enter the country (see section 1.a.). The Jandarma supervised the “security guards” (formerly known as “village guards”), a civilian militia that provide additional local security in the southeast, largely in response to the terrorist threat from the PKK. The MIT reports to the presidency and is responsible for collecting intelligence on existing and potential threats.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, the Jandarma, the military, and the MIT, but government mechanisms to investigate and punish alleged abuse and corruption by state security officials remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem. MIT members are immune from prosecution. The law grants other security officials involved in fighting terror immunity from prosecution and makes it harder for prosecutors to investigate human rights abuses by requiring that they obtain permission from both military and civilian leadership prior to pursuing prosecution.
The law authorizes the Ombudsman Institution, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI), prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts, and parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) to investigate reports of security force killings, torture, or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses. Civil courts, however, remained the main recourse to prevent impunity. National and international human rights organizations reported credible evidence of torture and inhumane treatment, asserting that authorities took insufficient action against abuses, particularly of detainees in custody. The government has not released information on its efforts to address abuse through disciplinary action and training. Officials sometimes countersued or intimidated individuals who alleged abuse.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that prosecutors issue warrants for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. The period for arraignment may be extended for up to four days. Formal arrest is a measure, separate from detention that means a suspect is to be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. For crimes that carry potential prison sentences of fewer than three years’ imprisonment, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge may 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, it allows 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 for conviction is more than five years’ imprisonment or where the defendant is a child or a person with disabilities, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases, authorities provided an attorney if a defendant could not afford one.
Under antiterror legislation adopted by parliament on July 26, the government may detain without charge (or appearance before a judge) a suspect for 48 hours for “individual” offenses and 96 hours for “collective” offenses. These periods may be extended twice with the approval of a judge, amounting to six days for “individual” and 12 days for “collective” offenses. Under the previous state of emergency law, authorities could detain persons without charge for up to 14 days. Human rights organizations raised concerns that police authority to hold individuals for up to 12 days without charge increased the risk of torture. There were numerous accounts of persons, including foreign citizens, waiting beyond 12 days to be formally charged. For example, prominent civil society leader Osman Kavala remained in pretrial detention without an indictment since November 2017 (see section 5).
The law gives prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege and to observe and record conversations between accused persons and their legal counsel. Bar associations reported that detainees occasionally had difficulty gaining immediate access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially those not provided by the state–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals the government accused of ties to the 2016 coup attempt. The Human Rights Joint Platform (HRJP) reported that the renewed 24-hour attorney access restriction was arbitrarily applied. The HRA reported that in terrorism-related cases, authorities often did not inform defense attorneys of the details of detentions within the first 24 hours, as stipulated by law. It also reported that attorneys’ access to the case files for their clients was limited for weeks or months pending preparations of indictments, hampering their ability to defend their clients.
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 2016 coup attempt, human rights groups alleged that authorities frequently denied detainees access to an attorney in terrorism-related cases until security forces had interrogated their clients.
Some lawyers stated they were hesitant to take cases, particularly those of suspects accused of PKK or Gulen movement ties, because of fear of government reprisal, including prosecution. Government intimidation of defense lawyers also at times involved nonterror cases. According to the Freedom House 2018 Freedom in the World report, “In many cases, lawyers defending those accused of terrorism offenses were arrested themselves.” The HRA reported in July on 78 cases in which authorities pressured or intimidated lawyers. According to an April statement by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, since 2016, authorities prosecuted 1,539 lawyers, arrested 580, and sentenced 103 to lengthy prison terms.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions. 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. In March a report by the Office of UN Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covering the year 2017 stated that OHCHR had gathered credible information that a number of police officers who refused to participate in arbitrary arrests, torture, and other repressive acts under the state of emergency were dismissed or arrested on charges of supporting terrorism.
Pretrial Detention: An August 2017 state of emergency decree increased from five to seven years the maximum time that a detainee could be held pending trial, including for crimes against the security of the state, national defense, constitutional order, state secrets and espionage, organized crime, and terrorism-related offenses. The length of pretrial detention generally did not exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crimes. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period remained two years with the possibility of three one-year extensions, for a total of five years. HRW reported in July that people continued to be arrested and remanded to pretrial custody on terrorism charges, with at least 50,000 remanded to pretrial detention since the failed coup attempt. Amnesty International’s 2017/2018 publication The State of the World’s Human Rights reported “arbitrary, lengthy and punitive pretrial detention and fair trial violations continued routinely” in 2017 and 2018.
The trial system does not provide for a speedy trial, and trial hearings were often months apart, despite provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure for continuous trial. It sometimes took years after indictment before trials began, and appeals could take years more to reach conclusion.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although the state of emergency and subsequent antiterror legislation imposed limits on their ability to do so. The country’s judicial process allows a system of lateral appeals to Criminal Courts of Peace that substitutes appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the approach, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings by horizontally equal courts.
Detainees awaiting or undergoing trial prior to the state of emergency had the right to a review in-person with a lawyer before a judge every 30 days to determine if they should be released pending trial. The state of emergency suspended the requirement for in-person reviews. Under a new law passed on July 26, in-person review occurs once every 90 days with the 30-day reviews replaced by a judge’s evaluation of the case file only. Observers noted that this element of the law was contrary to the principle of habeas corpus and increased the risk of abuse, since the detainee would not be seen by a judge on a periodic basis.
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. Nevertheless, a backlog of cases at the Constitutional Court slowed proceedings, preventing expeditious redress.
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. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged that authorities prevented migrants placed in detention and return centers from communicating with the outside world, including their family members and lawyers, creating the potential for refoulement as migrants accept repatriation to avoid indefinite detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but there were indications the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch.
The executive branch also exerts strong influence over the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the judicial body that assigns and reassigns judges and prosecutors to the country’s courts nationwide, and is responsible for their discipline.
Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the HSK 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 judges’ inclination to give precedence to the state’s interests contributed to inconsistent application of criminal laws. Bar associations, lawyers, and scholars expressed concern regarding application procedures for prosecutors and judges described as highly subjective, which they warned opened the door to political litmus tests in the hiring process.
The judiciary faced a number of challenges that limited judicial independence, including the suspension, detention, or firing of judicial staff accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement.
The government also targeted some defense attorneys representing a number of high-profile clients. For example, a judge ordered the arrest of defense attorney Omer Kavili, who was representing the band Grup Yorum, at an October 5 hearing of the case at Istanbul’s Silivri Criminal Court. At his trial, the judge argued that Kavili was not performing the profession of defense, but was instead portraying his client and himself as victims and seeking vindication through “reverse psychology.” Kavili was released on October 6 following public outcry by opposition parties and bar associations.
The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system. The system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors created close connections between the two groups wherein prosecutors and judges studied together at the country’s Justice Academy before HSK assigned them to their first official posts. After appointment, they often lodged together, shared the same office space, worked in the same courtroom for many years, and even exchanged positions during their careers. A July 9 state of emergency decree changing this practice and creating separate training centers for judges and prosecutors had not been implemented as of year’s end.
Constitutional changes approved by referendum in 2017 abolished the country’s military courts, reserving military justice for disciplinary cases only.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, although bar associations and rights groups asserted that increasing executive interference with the judiciary and actions taken by the government through state of emergency provisions jeopardized this right.
As written, the law provides defendants a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trial, although in a number of high-profile cases, defendants increasingly appeared via video link from prison, rather than in person. Judges may restrict 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) until the client is indicted.
A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Courtroom proceedings were generally public except for cases 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 except to the parties to a case, making it difficult for the public, including journalists and watchdog groups, to obtain information on the progress or results of a case. In some politically sensitive cases, judges restricted access to Turkish lawyers only, limiting the ability of domestic or international groups to observe some trials.
Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult an attorney in a timely manner. Observers and human rights groups noted that in some high-profile cases, these rights were not afforded to defendants.
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 are expected to 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 national security. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for court-provided language interpretation when needed. Human rights groups alleged interpretation was not always provided free of charge, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.
Observers noted the government often failed to establish evidence to sustain indictments and convictions in cases related to supporting terrorism, highlighting growing concerns regarding respect for due process and adherence to credible evidentiary thresholds. In numerous cases, authorities used secret evidence to which defense attorneys and the accused had no access.
In February a Turkish court sentenced U.S. citizen and Turkish dual national Serkan Golge to seven-and-a-half years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization (“FETO”). In September an appeals court reduced the charges to support of a terrorist organization and reduced the sentence to five years’ imprisonment. Authorities arrested Golge in 2016 based on specious evidence including witness testimony that was later recanted. He remained in prison at year’s end while his conviction was under appeal.
In 2016 authorities arrested U.S. citizen Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of membership in an armed “terrorist” group, espionage, and attempts to overthrow the state. The indictment, issued after 17 months of pretrial detention, referenced “Christianization” activities related to his alleged crimes. On October 12, the Izmir court convicted Pastor Brunson and sentenced him to three years, one month, and 15 days. The court suspended his sentence for time served and lifted his travel ban, thereby allowing him to leave the country.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The number of political prisoners remained a subject of debate at year’s end. In November the Interior Ministry reported that the government had detained 217,971 persons in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. Of those, the courts had convicted 16,684, and another 14,750 were in prison awaiting trial. An exact breakdown of numbers of alleged members or supporters of the PKK, ISIS, and “FETO” was not available at year’s end, though in public remarks on December 11, Vice President Fuat Oktay stated that 47,778 individuals remained detained as “FETO” suspects. Some observers considered many of these individuals political prisoners, a charge sharply disputed by the government.
Prosecutors used a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security, and in some cases, according to defense lawyers and opposition groups, used what appeared to be legally questionable evidence to file criminal charges against and prosecute a broad range of individuals, including journalists, opposition politicians (primarily of the pro-Kurdish HDP), activists, and others critical of the government. At year’s end, 10 current and former HDP parliamentarians and 46 HDP co-mayors remained imprisoned. Hundreds more HDP officials were also detained throughout the country along with former HDP co-chair and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, who has been imprisoned since 2016. The government also removed from office on national security grounds numerous locally elected opposition politicians in Kurdish-majority areas, subsequently detaining or prosecuting some. According to media reports, the government removed the elected mayors of 99 municipalities from office. These included 94 pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) or HDP mayors, four Justice and Development Party (AKP) mayors, and one National Movement party (MHP) mayor. The government removed, detained, or arrested the majority for allegedly supporting PKK terrorism. According to January Ministry of Interior statistics, out of 102 HDP or DBP-controlled municipalities, the government had installed trustees in all but four.
Authorities used antiterror laws broadly against many human rights activists, media outlets, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged Gulen movement members, among others. Human rights groups alleged that many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to silence critical voices or weaken political opposition to the ruling AKP, particularly the HDP or its partner party, the DBP. Authorities used both antiterror laws and state of emergency powers to detain individuals and seize assets, including those of media companies, charities, businesses, pro-Kurdish groups accused of supporting the PKK, and individuals alleged to be associated with the Gulen movement. During the first quarter of the year, the government targeted nearly 1,000 critics of Operation Olive Branch, the country’s military operation in northern Syria, with detention and prosecution.
Students, artists, and association members, including 11 senior members of the Turkish Medical Association, faced criminal investigations for alleged terror-related activities, primarily due to their social media posts. The government did not consider those in custody for alleged PKK or “FETO” ties to be political prisoners and did not permit access to them by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Credible reports claimed that some persons jailed on terrorism-related charges were subject to a variety of abuses, including long solitary confinement, 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 reports also alleged that visitors to prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes faced abuse, including limited access to family, 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 and legal entities such as organizations and companies, have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. On constitutional and human rights issues, the law also provides for individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court, theoretically allowing for faster and simpler high-level review of alleged human rights violations within contested court decisions. Critics complained that, despite this mechanism, the large volume of appeals of dismissals under the state of emergency and decreased judicial capacity caused by purges in the judiciary resulted in slow proceedings. Citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies have the right to apply for redress to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The Commission of Inquiry on Practices under the State of Emergency, established in January 2017, was designed to adjudicate appeals of wrongfully dismissed civil servants. The commission reported that, as of November, it had received 125,678 applications, adjudicated 42,000 cases, approved 3,000, and rejected 39,000. Critics complained that the appeals process was opaque, slow, and did not respect citizens’ rights to due process, including by prohibiting defendants from seeing the evidence against them or presenting exculpatory evidence in their defense.
Figures regarding the breadth of state of emergency dismissals released by human rights groups and multiple officials during the course of the year varied. According to the HRJP, since the coup attempt and pursuant to state of emergency decrees, more than 130,000 public employees had been dismissed or suspended; more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors had been dismissed; more than 2,300 private educational institutions–including schools, tutoring academies, and dormitories–had been closed along with 15 private universities and 19 unions and trade confederations; 200 media companies had been shut down; and nearly 1,500 associations or foundations had been closed. Individuals and legal entities affected by the state of emergency decrees were eligible to appeal to the commission of inquiry. Rights groups, legal experts, and international organizations criticized the commission of inquiry for being opaque, slow, and ineffective. An October Amnesty International report stated the commission “is in effect a rubber stamp for the government’s arbitrary dismissals.”
In multiple parts of the southeast, many citizens continued efforts to appeal the government’s expropriations of properties in 2016 to reconstruct areas damaged in government-PKK fighting.
In May the Constitutional Court denied a request from residents of Diyarbakir’s Sur District to annul the government’s 2016 expropriation order for an “urban renewal” program.
According to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey, as of March 5, the government had seized approximately 1,124 businesses worth an estimated 49.4 billion lira ($9.4 billion) since the 2016 coup attempt. Real estate confiscated from dissolved legal entities was worth an additional 15 billion lira ($2.9 billion).
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 MIT authority to collect information while limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. Oversight of MIT falls within the purview of the presidency, and checks on MIT authorities are limited. 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 conviction of interfering with MIT activities, including data collection or obtaining or publishing information concerning the agency. The law allows the president to grant MIT and its employees immunity from prosecution.
Police possess broad 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 file complaints, but judicial permission occurring after a search has already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.
Security forces may conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against potential abuse of this power, the State Inspection Board may conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Information on how often this authority was used was not available. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy. Many citizens asserted that authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their email or social media accounts, perpetuating widespread self-censorship. The Ministry of Interior disclosed that, during a one-week period from July 9 to July 16, it examined 459 social media accounts and took legal action against 266 users who it accused of propagandizing or promoting terror organizations, inciting people to enmity and hostility, or insulting state institutions. Between 2016 and April 2018, authorities investigated more than 45,000 social media accounts and took legal action against 17,000 on charges of “propagandizing for and praising a terror organization,” according to HRJP. Human rights groups asserted 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.
Under the state of emergency and continuing with the implementation of antiterror legislation, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on some wanted suspects. Government measures included cancelling the passports of family members of civil servants suspended or dismissed from state institutions, 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 individuals outside the country who were wanted for or accused of ties to the Gulen movement. On July 25, the Ministry of Interior announced it would lift travel bans on 155,000 individuals whose family members had alleged connections with “terror organizations.”
Government seizure and closure over the previous two years of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits, and the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech, for example, through provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insult. The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “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 for not including restrictions based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.
Hundreds of incarcerations were widely viewed as related to freedom of expression. In an example of the government’s use of broad definitions of terror to prosecute and intimidate critics, in June, authorities arrested two teenagers who drew a picture of an electric kettle and wrote the name of the pro-Kurdish HDP on a wall in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood. The teens were charged with disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. The tea kettle reference came from remarks by jailed HDP presidential candidate Demirtas, who had joked, through social media posts by his lawyers, about tweeting via an electric kettle in his prison cell.
Many in media reported the government’s prosecution of journalists representing major independent newspapers and its jailing of journalists during the preceding two years hindered freedom of speech and that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.
During the year the government opened investigations into thousands of individuals, including politicians, journalists, and minors, for insulting the president, the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or state institutions. For example, on July 6, authorities detained four students from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University for insulting the president by carrying a banner depicting President Erdogan as different cartoon animals. Critics of the arrests noted that the cartoon had appeared years earlier and had faced a similar challenge in court, but that the court had ruled that it did not meet the threshold for insult. On July 18, President Erdogan directed prosecutors to start criminal insult proceedings against opposition CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu and 72 other CHP parliamentarians after they shared the same cartoon via Twitter in a sign of support for the university students.
Estimates of the number of imprisoned journalists varied. The Media and Law Studies Association in Istanbul attributed the disparity to the varying definitions of “journalist” or “media worker.” While the government only officially recognizes persons who have been issued a yellow press accreditation card–typically limited to reporters, cameramen, and editors–media watchdog groups include distributors, copy editors, layout designers, or other staff of media outlets in their definition. The government also characterized those working for Kurdish language outlets as “terrorists” for their alleged ties to the PKK, regardless of their previous work. Information about and access to Kurdish outlets’ imprisoned staff was therefore limited.
The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that, as of December, there were at least 73 journalists in prison; the Journalists’ Union of Turkey claimed 142 journalists were in prison as of July 20; Reporters without Borders claimed there were 43 journalists in jail as of December 2017; the NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that there were 176 journalists, editors, or media managers in jail as of October 19, the vast majority for alleged ties to the PKK or Gulen movement. An unknown number of additional journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest, according to the Journalists Association. Hundreds more remained out of work after the government as part of its response to the 2016 coup attempt, closed media outlets, mostly in 2016-17, that were allegedly affiliated with the PKK or Gulen movement.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation.
A parliamentary by-law prohibits use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms by members of parliament on the floor of parliament, providing for the possible issuance of fines to violators. In January parliament fined Osman Baydemir, a suspended former HDP spokesperson and Sanliurfa parliamentarian, 12,000 lira ($2,290) after he referred to himself as a “representative of Kurdistan” during a December 2017 discussion in parliament.
Rights groups and free speech advocates reported intensifying government pressure that, in certain cases, resulted in enhanced caution in public reporting.
Press and Media Freedom: Mainstream print media and television stations are largely controlled by progovernment holding companies. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), with the sale in March of the large Dogan Media Group to the progovernment Demiroren Group, the government was able to exert power in the administration of 90 percent of the most watched television stations and most read national dailies. Only a fraction of the holding companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate.
Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees, although a Kurdish-language radio and television station, Amed Radio-Television, opened following the end of the state of emergency in July.
Government prosecution of independent journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. Examples include 14 persons affiliated with leading independent newspaper Cumhuriyet convicted April 28 of aiding terrorist organizations and sentenced to prison terms ranging between three and seven years. The court placed the journalists on probation and banned them from traveling abroad until the appeals process concluded. The cases continued at year’s end. Examples of journalists whose detentions were considered politically motivated included four journalists and editors who had worked for the now-closed, Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper. Authorities arrested the four in 2016 and they remained in detention on terrorism and coup-related charges. Examples of convictions condemned by international human rights organizations included six journalists sentenced to aggravated life prison terms February 16 for alleged links to the unsuccessful 2016 coup attempt. Courts convicted an additional six journalists associated with the shuttered Zamannewspaper of terrorism-related charges July 6 and sentenced them to between eight and more than 10 years imprisonment.
On July 12, police in Diyarbakir raided the offices of Kurdish publication JinNews and confiscated the new organization’s computers. On June 28, Istanbul police also raided the office of the Sendika.org news website as part of an investigation into Editor in Chief Ali Ergin Demirhan, who was briefly detained on May 28 on charges of promoting “terrorist propaganda” in a column titled, “We Can Stop Dictatorship.”
In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country. In December 2017 the government imposed a travel ban on journalist Mesale Tolu, a dual German-Turkish national, when she was charged with membership in a terror organization. In August authorities lifted the travel ban pending the outcome of her trial. Many other journalists remained unable to travel abroad due to travel bans.
Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack.
The government routinely filed terrorism-related charges against an individual or publication in response to reporting on sensitive topics, particularly PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). Human rights groups and journalists said the government did this to target and intimidate journalists and the public. On June 20, journalist and editor in chief of the Cagdas Sesnews website, Ece Sevin Ozturk, was arrested and charged with aiding a terrorist organization after the conservative progovernment newspaper Yeni Safak alleged that she had ties to “FETO.”
Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government due to fear of jeopardizing other business interests.
Journalists currently or formerly affiliated with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure including incarceration. The government routinely denied press accreditation to Turkish citizens working for international outlets for any association (including volunteer work) with Kurdish-language outlets.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders increased direct censorship of news media, online media, and books. In November the Interior Ministry reported that authorities investigated 631,233 digital materials, monitored 110,000 social media publications, and detained 7,000 individuals for social media posts.
In August, following a steep drop in the value of the lira, the government promised sanctions against “disturbing” comments or social media posts about the economy, effectively criminalizing criticism of the government’s handling of the economy and the crisis. On September 27, media reported that HDP official Idris Ilhan was arrested for “terror propaganda” and “opposition to the capital markets law” after he tweeted on August 13 that “the dollar is up because we are going down.” On September 18, online publication T24 reported that the General Directorate for Security announced that it had initiated 346 investigations on August 12 alone in connection with posts about foreign currency rates.
On February 6, following a request by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK), an Ankara court blocked access to hundreds of websites linked to opponents of Operation Olive Branch including organizations, journalists, and news outlets, as well as some YouTube and Instagram accounts, for allegedly “promoting terrorism, inciting people to crime, and disturbing public security and order.”
While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication. The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that the country’s largest bookstore chain, D&R, removed some books from their shelves and did not carry books by some opposition political figures.
The TPA reported publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subject to book promotion restrictions. In some cases, prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulenist books to be credible evidence of membership in a terror organization. In other cases, authorities directly banned books because of objectionable content. For example, in May courts banned at least nine Kurdish books written in Turkish, citing counterterrorism. Avesta, the Kurdish publishing company, stated the books included a biography of Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani and Yezidi religious books. In October police confiscated copies of an Avesta book on Sheikh Ubeydullah and the Kurdish Uprising of 1880 at the Batman Book Fair and detained the publishing company’s staff.
Some journalists said their firms fired them or asked them to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines. Failure to comply typically resulted in a dismissal, with media groups citing “financial reasons” as a blanket cause for termination.
Some writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. For example, authorities charged Sebla Kucuk with “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization” after she published translations of Reuters reports and transcriptions from the court hearings of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla and Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who were on trial in the United States for charges related to an Iranian sanctions evasion scheme.
In 2017 the government issued an emergency decree removing the Supreme Board of Election’s authority to fine or halt private radio and television broadcast outlets that violated the principle of equality, which required that broadcasters give equal access to the country’s major political parties. The board’s authority remained curtailed during the year. Critics charged that the move benefited the ruling AKP political party generally, and impacted coverage of the June elections.
The Radio and Television Supreme Council continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”
Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press). The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media outlets.
Authorities charged citizens, including minors, with insulting the country’s leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” For example, on May 29, President Erdogan filed a criminal complaint against CHP candidate Muharrem Ince for allegedly “insulting the president” in claims he made during a campaign rally.
Lawmakers, mostly from the pro-Kurdish HDP, were also targeted in a significant number of insult-related cases. At year’s end, 6,000 HDP lawmakers, executives, and party members were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech.
While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the government did not apply the law equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted.
The Ministry of Justice reported that in 2017 it launched 20,000 investigations related to insulting the president. Comprehensive government figures for the year were unavailable at year’s end, but according to media reports, from 2014 through 2017, government authorities filed more than 68,000 insult-related lawsuits against individuals or organizations.
National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization–generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement, or early in the year in connection with opposition to Operation Olive Branch.
In one example, prominent columnist Ahmet Altan remained in prison at year’s end, convicted along with his brother, economist Mehmet Altan, on terror-related charges in February for allegedly sending coded messages to the 2016 coup plotters during a panel discussion on a television program. On June 27, a court released Mehmet Altan, with a travel ban and judicial monitoring as conditions as the trial continued. Many observers viewed their prosecution as an effort to intimidate or silence prominent opposition voices.
Foreign journalists were also prosecuted. For example, in October 2017, a court convicted Wall Street Journal correspondent Ayla Albayrak of terrorist propaganda based on a story she wrote on government-PKK clashes, and was sentenced in absentia to two years and one month in prison. Her case remained under appeal at year’s end.
Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. In the aftermath of curfews first enacted in 2016 in response to PKK violence, some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.
During the year internet freedom did not improve. The government did not block new sites as frequently in the past, but it continued to restrict access to the internet and did not unblock selected online content. The government at times blocked access to cloud-based services and permanently blocked access to many virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.
The Freedom House report Freedom on the Net 2017: Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy highlighted increasing efforts by authorities to control use of virtual private networks and the use of government-employed “armies of opinion shapers” to spread progovernment views online.
The law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any number of crimes, including: insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or insulting the president. The government may also block sites to protect national security and public order. For example, authorities have blocked Wikipedia and other news and information sites that have content criticizing government policies.
The government-operated BTK is empowered to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter to a judge within 24 hours, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months to two years in prison or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($9,500 to $95,000) for conviction of failing to comply with a judicial order. Under a decree published in the official gazette on July 9, the president appoints the BTK president, vice president, and members of the authority.
The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to ask the regulatory body to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. Government ministers may also order websites blocked, and the regulatory authority is legally compelled to comply within four hours, followed by a court order within 24 hours.
The state of emergency allowed the government expanded powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that are responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The judicial system is responsible for informing content providers of ordered blocks. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.
Government leaders, including the president, reportedly employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals accused of insulting them.
Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use BTK approved filtering tools. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings. According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, the government blocked at least 54,400 websites during the year. Of those, 51,600 were blocked through a BTK decision and 875 by court order.
In April 2017 the BTK banned Wikipedia from operating in the country due to two terrorism-related articles, pursuant to a law that allows filtering on national security grounds. The BTK also demanded the removal of “offensive content” and that Wikipedia open an office in the country. The organization appealed the decision, which the Constitutional Court upheld on May 5. Wikipedia remained inaccessible in the country without the use of virtual private networks. The government stated the ban would remain in place as long as Wikipedia does not remove content that links the country with support to the terrorist group ISIS.
According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, during the first six months of the year, the company received 8,988 court orders and other legal requests from authorities to remove content, more than double compared to the previous six months. According to digital news source The Daily Dot, at year’s end, Twitter had blocked media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request.
In July Russia’s state-controlled Sputnik news agency shut down its Kurdish language website, reportedly in response to a request from Turkish authorities.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
During the year the government continued to limit academic freedom, restrict freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censor cultural events.
The president appointed rectors to state and foundation-run universities, leading critics to assert that the appointments compromised the independence of the institutions. Hundreds of additional professors lost their jobs or faced charges due to political speech during the year. The Council of Higher Education reported that, as of July 31, 7,257 academics from more than 100 universities had been dismissed since the 2016 attempted coup under state of emergency decrees. Of those, 5,705 were suspended for allegedly aiding a terrorist organization. Many of those dismissed were prohibited from travelling abroad, as were their spouses and children. During the first half of the year, rectors required the permission of the chairman of the Council of Higher Education to travel abroad. That requirement was lifted in July. Other administrators and some professors were also required to seek permission from supervisors for foreign travel. Throughout the year, courts issued sentences for 28 academics, known as the Academics for Peace, for “terrorist propaganda” after they were among the more than 1,100 signatories of a 2016 petition condemning state violence against Kurds in the southeast and calling for peace. Among them, an Istanbul court sentenced prominent physician and chairwoman of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Sebnen Financi, on December 19 to two years and eight months in prison for “spreading terrorist propaganda.”
Some academics and event organizers stated their employers monitored their work and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups criticized legal and Higher Education Board-imposed constraints that limited university autonomy in staffing, teaching, and research policies.
State of emergency and antiterror measures also affected arts and culture. In May press outlets reported that state broadcaster TRT had banned 208 songs from the airwaves over the previous two years. TRT defended the practice, stating it was respecting the law which forbids the broadcast of content encouraging people to smoke or drink or that conveys “terrorist propaganda.” On May 23, authorities arrested rapper Ezhel on charges of inciting drug use in some of his songs; following a month of pretrial arrest, the court acquitted and released him on June 19. In January Ankara and Istanbul authorities banned actor Baris Atay’s play, Only Dictator, indefinitely citing security concerns.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government restricted foreign travel for hundreds of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed 2016 coup attempt. On July 25, authorities lifted the foreign travel bans of 155,000 individuals, although it remained unclear how many more remained unable to travel. Curfews imposed by local authorities in response to counter-PKK operations and the country’s military operation in northern Syria also restricted freedom of movement. Authorities in Sirnak province, on the country’s border with Syria and Iraq, designated 12 areas as “temporary security zones” through February 12. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 3.6 million persons from Syria as well as for the approximately 370,000 persons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries who were present in the country.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to conditional refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, and temporary and international protection status holders.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Between January and December, authorities apprehended 268,003 irregular migrants attempting to enter Turkey, according to Turkish General Staff and Ministry of Interior data. Multiple sources reported that authorities denied entry to undocumented Iraqis and Syrians during the year. There were reports Turkish border guards intercepted, or summarily deported, Syrians seeking asylum back to Syria. For example, on March 22, HRW reported Turkish forces “routinely intercepted hundreds, and at times thousands, of asylum seekers at the Turkey-Syria border since at least December 2017 and summarily deported them to the war-ravaged Idlib governorate in Syria.” Turkish border guards also reportedly killed or injured Syrian asylum-seekers at the border (see Section 1.a.).
The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq have remained closed to all but urgent humanitarian cases since late 2015. Of the 19 border crossing points between Syria and Turkey, only three were open for limited civilian access. The rest were for military or military and humanitarian assistance only. Since November 2017 some provinces along the border with Syria had limited registration of asylum seekers to newborn babies and urgent protection cases only, limiting their ability to gain access to social services, including education and medical care.
Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year. In June in the Bornova district of Izmir Province, tensions between local residents and Syrian refugees erupted into violence that continued for three days. Workplace exploitation, child labor, and early marriage also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members, interpreters, and lawyers (also see Refoulement).
UNHCR conducted a number of visits to temporary reception centers in Duzici/Osmaniye and Kayseri, where migrants readmitted from Greece were referred on a temporary basis, but did not have regular, unfettered access. In most cases, these migrants did not have access to legal counsel or interpretation, leaving them vulnerable to refoulement.
UNHCR reported there were LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees in the country, most from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility from both authorities and the local population due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. Commercial sexual exploitation also remained a significant problem in the LGBTI refugee community.
In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The state of emergency allowed the government to limit citizens’ internal movement without a court order. The new antiterror law allows severe restrictions to be imposed on freedom of movement, such as granting governors the power to limit movement, including entering or leaving provinces, for up to 15 days.
Freedom of movement remained a problem in parts of the east and southeast, where continuing PKK activity led authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement at times. The government instituted special security zones, restricting the access of civilians, and established curfews in parts of several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks or activity (see section 1.g.).
Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement (see Protection of Refugees).
Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt. The government applied travel restrictions to those accused of affiliation with terrorist groups or Gulen movement, as well as to their extended family members. Authorities also restricted foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country. The government maintained that these travel restrictions were necessary and justified to preserve security.
Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on re-entry into the country if they chose to travel to a third country or return temporarily to Syria. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement, and required an individual exception for all other reasons. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.
Until September non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving the country. In September the government assumed full control of the national asylum system for international protection cases and became the referring authority for all resettlement cases.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The renewal of conflict between the government and the PKK in the southeast in 2015 resulted in hundreds of thousands of IDPs. In some cases those displaced joined IDPs remaining from the conflict between security forces and the PKK between 1984 and the early 2000s. A reduction in urban clashes and government reconstruction efforts during the year permitted some IDPs to return to their homes. Overall numbers remained unclear at year’s end.
The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation. The government reported that, between 2004 and June, it had distributed more than 1 billion lira ($190 million) to more than 70,000 victims of displacement due to past PKK terrorism in Sirnak province.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to almost four million refugees in the country. A 2016 agreement between the government and the EU continued to hold down irregular migration from Turkey to Europe via the Aegean Sea. As of November 23, the government reported a total of 32,000 interceptions of individuals attempting to leave Turkey via the Aegean. Fewer individuals than in 2017 attempted to leave Turkey through a more dangerous route to Romania via the Black Sea and Evros River through the Greek border.
Refoulement: During the year UNHCR reported 27 cases of possible refoulement of persons of various nationalities, including Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, and Syrians. Reports of detention of larger numbers of individuals, including Syrians and Iraqis, were also received. Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 UN Refugee convention, although there were some unconfirmed cases of possible refoulement and tens of thousands of deportations may have taken place during the year. According to media reports, between January and October, more than 26,000 Afghans and more than 5,000 irregular migrants were deported.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but it limits rights granted in the 1951 convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees by law, the government granted temporary protection status to Syrians while maintaining conditional/subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Individuals recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional/subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily until they could obtain third country resettlement.
The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country, and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not impose a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.
UNHCR stopped registering persons of concern on September 10 as the Ministry of Interior Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) assumed full control of the national asylum system, including those under international protection. It reported that approximately 370,932 persons of concern were registered with UNHCR as of September 7, including 142,728 who were Iraqi nationals, 171,519 Afghan nationals, 39,220 Iranian nationals, and 5,757 Somali nationals. As of December 13, there were 3,611,834 Syrians registered for temporary protection; as of December 13, there were 143,803 Syrians and Iraqis residing in government-run camps, according to DGMM statistics.
UNHCR reported it had intermittent and unpredictable access to detention and removal centers where non-Syrians returned to the country from Greece were detained. UNHCR expressed doubts that all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure and reported that the access of readmitted persons to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 62 “satellite cities,” where they are supposed to receive services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These refugees were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement-country representatives. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests or transfer of registration from Syrians under temporary protection. Syrians living in camps required permission from camp authorities to leave the camps.
Employment: The law allows both Syrians under temporary protection and non-Syrian conditional refugees the right to work, provided they have been registered in the province they wish to work in for six months. Applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was so burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages and exposure to unsafe work conditions.
Access to Basic Services: The government provided free access to the public medical system to Syrians registered for temporary protection and subsidized medical care to other conditional refugees. The government also expanded access to education for more than 640,000 of one million school-age Syrian children. Many encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier or meeting transportation or other costs, or both.
As of November 1, the Ministry of National Education reported that 64 percent or 640,000 school-age Syrian children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. An estimated 36 percent remained out of school during the 2018-19 school year. According to UNICEF, more than 350,000 refugee children received monthly cash assistance for education through a joint program with UNICEF funded by international donors.
Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of refugees and other asylum seekers assigned to satellite cities in their jurisdictions, as well as of the Syrians present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to refugees and persons in situations similar to those of refugees varied widely.
Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for durable solutions within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin. The government granted citizenship to some Syrian refugees on a limited basis. As of September authorities had granted approximately 60,000 Syrians citizenship since 2010, according to the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs.
Temporary Protection: The government offered temporary protection to Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. In some provinces, after November 2017, DGMM no longer processed new registrations beyond new babies and highly vulnerable Syrians. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free health care. During the year administration of the camps was handed from the emergency authority to the DGMM, and the DGMM completed the closure of six camps and relocation of approximately 60,000 residents. Remaining residents of the camps received significantly more assistance, including shelter, education, and food support.
Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. Figures for the year were not available as of year’s end.
Government figures for stateless persons for the year were not available as of year’s end. The government provided documentation for children born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, although statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. According to public statements by the Interior Minister, as of December there were more than 380,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011.