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:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were credible allegations that the government contributed to civilian deaths in connection with its fight against the terrorist PKK organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with previous years (see section 1.g.).
According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), in the first 11 months of the year, 33 civilians, 185 security force members, and 311 PKK militants were killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of October 30, security forces had killed 1,451 PKK members. Human rights groups stated the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK in the southeast.
The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians. On March 19, for example, PKK terrorists killed a villager and injured four others in Bitlis Province. On July 31, the wife and infant son of a Turkish soldier were killed in a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Hakkari Province. On October 4, eight Turkish soldiers were killed in an IED attack that represented the largest single loss of life in one PKK attack in at least two years.
During the year the government maintained tight control of its border with Syria, with the stated objective of restricting the entry of ISIS terrorists moving through the country. The government restricted humanitarian access to only those with urgent humanitarian needs, including medical cases.
There were reports Turkish border guards shot at Syrians and asylum-seekers of other nationalities attempting to cross the border, resulting in civilian killings or injuries. Turkish government statistics indicate that authorities apprehended 20-30,000 irregular migrants each month during the year. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, although not on the ground, recorded more than 190 alleged fatalities from January 2017 to June.
There were credible reports that children were among those killed. For example, on March 22, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported descriptions by nine Syrians of 10 incidents between September 2017 and early March in which Turkish border guards shot at them or others ahead of them as they tried to enter Turkey, killing 14 persons, including five children.
In January Turkish Armed Forces launched Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin district. International observers, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, and HRW, though not on the ground reported that the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkey-supported armed opposition groups caused civilian casualties and destroyed hospitals and protected sites, such as cultural monuments, during the conduct of the operation. The organizations also reported that Turkish forces may have failed to take necessary precautions in some cases to protect civilians from harm during the early days of the operation. Anecdotal evidence suggested Turkish forces later sought to protect the rights of civilians in areas of Syria under Turkish military control. The government stated that its conduct in the Afrin operation was consistent with international law and that the military took care to avoid civilian casualties throughout the operation. The government’s restrictions on humanitarian assistance and NGO access to Afrin since its seizure of the district early in the year resulted in limited information that would allow for confirmation of government claims.
Within Turkey’s borders, human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, although overall numbers varied. HRFT reported 11 suspicious deaths in prison.
Following the October 2 disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi after entering the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, the government of Turkey launched an investigation to determine his whereabouts and ultimately the circumstances and cause of his death. On October 19, after Turkish officials alleged a 15-member team of Saudi nationals killed Khashoggi at the consulate, Saudi government officials confirmed Khashoggi’s October 2 murder. On October 23, President Erdogan stated Khashoggi had been murdered in a planned operation and called for the extradition of 18 Saudi nationals considered by the kingdom as potential suspects in the killing (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Saudi Arabia).
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.