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 violent clashes between government security forces and the terrorist PKK organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with 2016 (see section 1.g.). In September human rights groups and Republican People’s Party (CHP) member of parliament Sezgin Tanrikulu claimed the government killed a civilian named Mehmet Temel and injured three others in a mountainous area of Hakkari Province during an armed drone strike on August 31. The government disputed the account, claiming the four were PKK terrorists.
According to the International Crisis Group in Turkey, in the first 11 months of the year, 35 civilians, 164 security force members, and 504 PKK militants were killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes. 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 November 2, for instance, six soldiers and two village guards were killed by PKK terrorists in Hakkari’s Semdinli District. Turks across the political spectrum condemned the PKK in the wake of the August 11 death of 15-year-old Eren Bulbul, who was killed during a skirmish between the Jandarma (a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Interior) and the PKK in the rural town of Macka in the mountains of Trabzon Province. Bulbul, a local resident, was acting as a spotter for forces tracking PKK terrorists when he was killed.
During the year the government tightened control of its border with Syria, primarily to restrict the entry of ISIS terrorists moving through the country potentially to commit terrorist acts in Turkey and beyond. The impact, in some cases, restricted humanitarian access to the country for persons fleeing the conflict in Syria. The country allowed access only to those needing immediate medical assistance. Some Syrians attempting to cross the border were injured or killed during border crossings (see section 2.d.).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that from the start of the conflict in March 2011 to July 30, Turkish forces killed at least 292 Syrians (including 55 children and 29 women) on the Syria-Turkey border. It was unclear whether the government investigated these cases.
Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, although overall numbers varied. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reported at least 10 deaths in prison, including those of three children. The Human Rights Association (HRA) reported 17 deaths in prison. The Ministry of Justice, responding to questions from CHP member of parliament Baris Yardakas, reported that 66 prisoners committed suicide in 2016, 40 of them after the July 2016 attempted coup. For example, on August 3, Davut Turkel, a 59-year-old laborer and member of the AKCA-DER labor union, died in police custody. On July 13, police raided his home and detained him along with 90 others, reportedly as part of a Gulen-related investigation into the 2016 attempted coup. Following 12 days in detention, he was injured prior to appearing before a judge, transferred to a hospital, and died nine days later after falling into a coma. Police claimed he fell down on the courthouse steps and injured his head. A hospital autopsy confirmed the cause of death was a brain hemorrhage. Critics asserted the death was suspicious, in view of the fact that Turkel was at the courthouse with a two-person police escort when he sustained his injuries.
Citizens were also affected by terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS. On January 1, an attack on the popular Reina nightclub in Istanbul left 39 persons dead and dozens injured. Upon capture, the perpetrator, a citizen of Uzbekistan, reportedly told law enforcement officers that he had been instructed by ISIS to carry out the attack. On August 13, an ISIS suspect in custody for reportedly planning a suicide attack stabbed and killed a police officer inside Istanbul’s main police headquarters.
There were some unconfirmed reports of disappearances during the year, some of which human rights groups alleged were politically motivated. Opposition politicians and respected human rights groups claimed at least 11 abductions or disappearances of individuals with alleged Gulen ties or who opposed the government occurred. For example, in June the 12-year-old son of agricultural engineer Cemil Kocak witnessed the disappearance of his father in Ankara after their vehicle was hit by another car. When Kocak exited the car to assess the damage, three persons forced him into another car and drove away. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), there were “credible grounds” to believe Kocak and at least three other men had been forcibly disappeared by government agents.
Similarly in April Onder Asan disappeared in Ankara. Six weeks later, his family located him in an Ankara police station. Asan alleged that before being transferred to official custody, he was interrogated and tortured by security forces. Most of the victims identified by HRW had been dismissed from government jobs under the state of emergency. Government officials disputed HRW’s claims but declined to provide information on its investigative efforts, if any.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but critics alleged the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch. Constitutional amendments narrowly approved by voters in an April referendum further diminished judicial independence. Among other powers, the amendments provided the president authority to appoint half of the country’s most senior judges and gave parliament the authority to appoint the other half. Critics expressed concern that if the president and the majority party in parliament happened to be from the same party, a single party could, in practice, appoint all the judges to the highest courts. The amendments also renamed, restructured, and reshuffled the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), allowing the president and ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) to appoint another slate of members to the top judicial body that assigns judges and prosecutors to the country’s courts nationwide, a role that critics asserted became especially problematic after the removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors following the July 2016 coup attempt.
Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the careers of judges and prosecutors are controlled through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands made by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK, formerly the HSYK). 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. Critics 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 sharply limited judicial independence, including the suspension, detention, or firing of judicial staff accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement. Observers alleged the government also interfered with the judicial process in certain cases, including those related to Gulenist trials. On April 3, the HSK suspended three judges who had ordered the release of 21 of 29 journalists accused of ties to Gulen and overturned the release order. Observers noted the reversal came after a progovernment social media campaign decried the decision of the judges. Some observers interpreted the move as a warning to judges who took independent decisions not in line with the government’s expectations.
The government also targeted some defense attorneys representing a number of high-profile clients. On September 12, police raided the Istanbul and Ankara offices of lawyers representing two detained educators on hunger strike, Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, whose cases had triggered protests and attracted significant national and international media attention. The raid and seizure of documents came two days before their clients’ scheduled court hearings in Ankara. On September 15, Ankara police detained Celal Celik, an attorney for the main CHP opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in connection with an investigation into the Gulen movement. Celik, a former Supreme Court judge, had been an outspoken critic of Gulen and was detained in part due to his cancellation of a Digiturk cable subscription. Cancellation of Digiturk cable subscriptions after a certain date was one of the criteria authorities used to justify dismissals and arrests, arguing that Gulen had ordered his supporters to cancel the service after it dropped several Gulen-linked channels from its cable offerings. Critics viewed Celik’s detention as an attempt to pressure or intimidate Kilicdaroglu. On April 9, prosecutors indicted Levent Piskin, a defense lawyer for imprisoned HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, on terrorism-related charges. Evidence against him included his membership in the HDP Istanbul WhatsApp group. The case continued at year’s end, with Piskin free under judicial supervision.
The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system. The country’s system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors created close connections between the two groups. Prosecutors and judges studied together at the country’s Justice Academy before being assigned to their first official posts by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors. 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. Observers, including the European Commission, claimed this process led to the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases. Justice officials asserted the system was designed to avoid these problems through regular reassignment of judges and prosecutors to different locations by the HSK. Human rights and bar associations noted that defense attorneys generally underwent less rigorous training than their prosecutorial counterparts and were not required to pass an examination to demonstrate a minimum level of expertise.
The constitutional changes approved in the April referendum 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 lawyers’ access to defendants’ files during the prosecution phase.
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 to obtain information on the progress or results of the case. In some politically sensitive cases, judges cleared courtrooms and 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 noted that especially in high-profile cases, courts failed to provide the defendants the right to exercise such rights. For example, Nuriye Gulmen, an academic who began a hunger strike after being dismissed from her job by a state of emergency decree following the 2016 coup attempt, was not brought to the courtroom for some of her hearings. Similarly, authorities did not transfer imprisoned pro-Kurdish HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas to court for his December 7 hearing, claiming a need to maintain public order.
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 free interpretation to all parties in a case when needed. Human rights groups alleged free interpretation was not always provided, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.
It sometimes took years before trials began, and appeals could take years to reach conclusion.
Observers noted the government often failed to establish evidence to sustain indictments and convictions in cases related to Gulen or supporting terrorism, highlighting growing concerns regarding respect for due process and adherence to credible evidentiary thresholds. In numerous instances, use of the smartphone application ByLock was cited as the only evidence of alleged support for or membership in a terrorist organization. For example, on August 10, Birgun newspaper editor Burak Ekici and 34 other journalists were detained for membership in the Gulenist movement, which the government accused of undertaking the July 2016 attempted coup. The evidence cited for their detention was use of the encrypted messaging application ByLock, which the government contended was only used by Gulenists. In one of many such cases nationwide, in July more than 70 academics faced arrest warrants for their use of ByLock. On December 5, the Ministry of Interior stated it had detected or identified more than 102,000 individual ByLock users.
In October 2016 authorities arrested Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen and Christian pastor, on charges of membership in an armed terrorist group, espionage, and attempts to overthrow the state. Evidence underlying the prosecutor’s accusations against him, widely believed to be political in nature, remained elusive. Brunson’s pretrial detention continued at year’s end.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The number of political prisoners was not a matter of public record and remained a subject of debate at year’s end. In November media reported that, according to the Ministry of Justice, 62,669 prison inmates were charged with terrorism-related crimes. An exact breakdown of numbers of alleged members of the PKK, ISIS, and the Gulen movement was not available at year’s end. In July the Ministry of Justice reported the arrest of 50,510 individuals in connection with the July 2016 attempted coup. 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 used what appeared to be questionable evidence to file criminal charges against 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, nine HDP parliamentarians, including the HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas–head of the second-largest opposition party in parliament–remained imprisoned, as did one CHP lawmaker. On June 14, a court sentenced CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoglu–convicted of espionage for purportedly giving an opposition newspaper information allegedly showing the country’s intelligence agency sending weapons into Syria–to 25 years’ imprisonment. The government also removed from office numerous local elected opposition politicians, primarily in Kurdish-majority areas, on national security grounds, subsequently detaining or prosecuting some. As of December 12, the Prime Ministry reported the government had removed a total of 106 elected mayors from office. These included 93 pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) or HDP mayors, nine AKP mayors, three National Movement party (MHP) mayors, and one CHP mayor. A majority were removed, detained or arrested for allegedly supporting PKK terrorism. The government installed trustees in more than 90 HDP or DBP municipalities.
Authorities used counterterrorism laws broadly against many human rights activists, media outlets, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged members of the Gulen movement, 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 pro-Kurdish HDP or its sister party, the DBP. Authorities used both the antiterror laws and increased powers under the state of emergency 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. The government did not consider those in custody for alleged PKK or Gulen ties to be political prisoners and did not permit access to them by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Credible media 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 a backlog that slowed proceedings. Citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies have the right to apply for redress to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Tens of thousands of individuals dismissed from government jobs appealed to the ECHR. In January the government established the Commission of Inquiry on Practices under the State of Emergency to adjudicate appeals of wrongfully dismissed civil servants. In May members of the commission were named and began accepting applications in July, which reached 102,000 as of September. The ECHR remanded the cases filed by Turkish nationals to the commission in July, citing the Commission of Inquiry as a suitable means of domestic redress. In late December the commission issued its first rulings on a limited number of cases. 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 toll of the state of emergency released by human rights groups and multiple officials during the course of the year varied. According to the HRA, since the coup attempt and pursuant to state of emergency decrees, more than 116,000 public employees had been dismissed or suspended; more than 4,00 judges and prosecutors had been dismissed; 49 private health-care facilities had been shut down; 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; 187 media companies had been shut down; and nearly 1,600 associations or foundations had been closed. Other suspensions, dismissals, and reinstatements took place outside of the context of state of emergency decrees; observers estimated these impacted tens of thousands of other civil servants. Individuals and legal entities affected by the state of emergency decrees were eligible to appeal to the Commission of Inquiry.
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.
The government reported that as of October, it had expended 2.6 billion lira ($690 million) for reconstruction, new building construction, and infrastructure in conflict zones, primarily in areas of the southeast damaged in 2015-16 clashes with the PKK.
In May the government expropriated properties in the Alipasa and Lalebey neighborhoods of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district in the southeast, the site of major 2015-16 urban clashes between the government and PKK, for the purposes of facilitating government reconstruction. The government planned to demolish buildings and rebuild under an “urban renewal” program through which residents were compensated, although residents claimed compensation was not enough to find replacement housing. Several local residents resisted for weeks requests to vacate their homes, leading to police intervention in Diyarbakir. Amnesty International launched a campaign calling attention to the forced removals of residents.
Since the 2016 coup attempt the government has seized approximately 1,000 businesses worth an estimated 46 billion lira ($12 billion), according to government officials. The HRA reported that, in the first 11 months of the year, the government seized the assets of more than 180 shuttered media companies. In September the government’s Saving Deposit Insurance Fund announced it would sell the assets of 21 media companies.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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 tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed 2016 coup attempt. Freedom of movement was also restricted in the southeast as a result of counter-PKK operations and, in certain cases, curfews imposed by local authorities. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 3.3 million persons from Syria as well as for the approximately 300,000 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 and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers awaiting resettlement to third countries (termed “conditional refugees”), stateless persons, and temporary and international protection status holders.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Between January and November, authorities apprehended 361,000 individuals for crossing into the country from Syria, 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. The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq have remained closed to all but extreme humanitarian cases since late 2015.
Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year, and many refugees faced workplace exploitation. Early marriage and child labor 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 more than 1,000 LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees lived 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.
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. Travel restrictions were applied both to those accused directly of affiliation with the Gulen movement or other terrorist groups as well as to their extended family members. Authorities also restricted several foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country. The government maintained that these travel restrictions were necessary and justified under the state of emergency.
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. 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.
Non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving Turkey. UNHCR reported that, through the end of September, 11,487 Syrians under temporary protection received exit permission and an additional 2,299 non-Syrian conditional refugees received exit permission to resettle to a third country.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The renewal of conflict between the government and 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. As of October, the government reported it had distributed 222.4 million lira ($60 million) to more than 10,000 victims of displacement due to past PKK terrorism.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to the more than three million refugees in the country. A March 2016 agreement between the government and the EU continued to reduce arrivals in Europe of irregular migrants via the Aegean Sea. As of December 10, a total of 28,205 arrivals in Greece from Turkey by sea were reported: 85 percent fewer than in the same period of 2016. By August migrants began using a new, more dangerous route to Romania via the Black Sea.
Refoulement: As of September, UNHCR reported 68 cases of possible refoulement of persons of various nationalities, including Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, and Syrians. Reports of deportation of larger numbers of individuals, including Syrians and Iraqis, were also received. In June and July, authorities deported several Syrian staff of one international NGO to Sudan. Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention, although 68 unconfirmed cases of possible refoulement and hundreds of deportations may have taken place during the year.
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 UN Refugee 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.
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 reported that approximately 325,000 persons of concern were registered with UNHCR Turkey as of September, including 137,077 (42 percent) who were Iraqi nationals, 141,247 (44 percent) Afghan nationals, 32,349 (10 percent) Iranian nationals, and 13,442 (4 percent) other nationalities. As of December 9, there were 3,381,005 Syrians registered for temporary protection; as of October 8, there were 231,252 Syrians and 6,853 Iraqis residing in government-run camps, according to Ministry of Interior Directorate General for Migration Management (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 all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure and reported that the access of those readmitted to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 68 “satellite cities,” where they received services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These asylum seekers 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 by a Ministry of Interior circular from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests from Syrians under temporary protection. Syrians were eligible for medical and other services and could qualify for a work permit, although these benefits were limited to the province in which they were registered. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Indigent Syrians were at times rounded up and moved to government-run camps in the country’s south. Syrians living in such 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. As a result many refugees remained vulnerable to exploitation, such as 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 significant numbers of school-age Syrian children. Many encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier or meeting transportation, other costs, or both.
As of November 6, the Ministry of National Education reported that 63 percent of Syrian children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. On November 6, the Ministry of National Education reported that 359,090 Syrian children were enrolled in regular public schools, while 253,513 were enrolled in temporary education centers, for a total of 612,603 school-age Syrian children in school. An estimated 37 percent remained out of school during the 2017-18 school year.
According to a June 8 statement by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies (MOFSP) minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, more than 56,000 refugee children had received approximately 3.8 million lira (one million dollars) cash assistance for education through a joint program with UNICEF that was funded by a foreign government and the EU.
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 refugee-like situations 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 also granted citizenship to some Syrian refugees on a limited basis. As of September, authorities had granted approximately 50,000 Syrians citizenship between 2010 and 2017, 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. 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. 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. The government reported that 48,738 Syrians were issued residency permits in 2016. Figures for the year were not available as of December 31.
The government identified 117 persons as stateless in 2016. Figures for the year were not available as of December 31. 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 the MOFSP, as of September, there were more than 225,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
In June the government identified 130 persons living abroad, including two former HDP lawmakers, who it claimed would lose their citizenship if they did not return within three months to face justice for alleged crimes in the country (primarily related to the 2016 coup attempt). At year’s end it remained unclear whether the government followed through with stripping any of them of their citizenship.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot. The government restricted the activities of some opposition political parties and leaders, and police detained opposition party officials and supporters. Nearly 150 parliamentarians remained at risk of possible prosecution after parliament lifted their immunity in 2016. The government also replaced democratically elected officials with state trustees when the former were accused of affiliation with terrorist groups. These tactics were most commonly directed against politicians affiliated with the pro-Kurdish HDP and its sister party, DBP.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: National parliamentary elections were most recently held in 2015. In its final report, the official OSCE election observation mission expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and a campaign environment that restricted candidates’ ability to campaign freely, among other problems.
The most recent presidential election took place in 2014. The official OSCE mission concluded that candidates were generally able to campaign freely but noted an uneven campaign playing field (e.g., misuse of state resources) that benefited then prime minister Erdogan.
In an April constitutional referendum voters narrowly approved significant amendments to the constitution that are intended to transition the country from a parliamentary system to a presidential system following the next joint parliamentary/presidential election, projected to occur in 2019. International observers from the OSCE concluded that the campaign and vote, which took place under a state of emergency, occurred “on an uneven playing field” that disproportionately benefited the ruling party and the “yes” camp. In their final report, OSCE observers noted the “yes” camp had disproportionate access to media, observed “numerous” cases in which “no” supporters “faced bans of their campaign activities,” and highlighted that the campaign was “imbalanced” due to the “active involvement of the president” and “many local public officials in the “yes” campaign,” including through the “misuse of administrative resources by public officials in the campaign.” The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted “the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: During the referendum campaign, there were multiple reports of activists in both the “yes” and “no” camps who were attacked by their opponents. The president, the prime minister, and other senior officials linked opponents of the referendum with the organizers of the failed coup and with terrorist groups in multiple public speeches.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, although Kurdish politicians representing the HDP and the DBP remained under disproportionate government pressure relative to other politicians. The number of women in politics and the judiciary remained small. As of year’s end, there were 76 women in the 550-member parliament. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s cabinet included two female ministers. The Ministry of Interior reported that, as of July, there were two female governors (Mugla and Yalova Provinces).
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There was no established pattern of or mechanism for investigating, indicting, and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns regarding the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of corruption cases.
Corruption: During the year the government prosecuted law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors who initiated corruption-related investigations or cases against government officials, alleging the defendants did so at the behest of the Gulen movement. Journalists accused of publicizing the corruption allegations also faced criminal charges. No senior government officials faced investigation for alleged corruption.
In the Transparency International 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index of the country fell from 42 to 41 points out of 100, indicating the public perceived that corruption among public institutions and employees was common and worsening.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain high-level government officials to provide a full financial disclosure, including a list of physical property, every five years. Officials generally complied with this requirement. The Prime Ministry Inspection Board, which advises the Corruption Investigations Committee, is responsible for investigating major corruption cases. Nearly every state agency had its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. Parliament may establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning cabinet ministers or the prime minister. The mechanism was not used during the year. A parliamentary majority may vote to send corruption-related cases to the courts for further action. The nature of government or parliamentary coordination with civil society on corruption-related oversight remained unclear at year’s end.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country, although many faced increasing government pressure during the year. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations, particularly in the southeast. Human rights groups reported the government was sometimes unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights abuses occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, harassment, and closure orders for their activities. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations.
Human rights groups reported intensifying government pressure. On June 6, police detained Taner Kilic, the founder and chair of Amnesty International Turkey, in Izmir along with 22 other persons for alleged ties to the Gulen movement. On July 5, police detained eight leading human rights activists–including the Amnesty International director for the country, Idil Eser–and two foreign trainers during a workshop on Buyukada, near Istanbul, on terrorism grounds. Critics charged that both episodes represented a government attempt to silence groups critical of its human rights record. At year’s end Kilic remained in pretrial detention, while the others were released pending the outcome of the trial.
Following the release in March of a joint report on alleged human rights abuses by the military in Cizre in 2016, the government opened an investigation into the authors, which included the HRA, HRFT, the Diyarbakir Bar Association, the Health and Social Service Workers Association, and the Gundem Cocuk Association, for allegedly insulting the state. Critics viewed the investigation as a retaliatory action for reporting critical of government actions and policies. The investigation continued at year’s end.
On April 24, a Gaziantep court convicted physician Serdar Kuni, HRFT’s Cizre Representative, of “aiding and abetting terrorist organizations,” but cleared him of membership in a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to four years and two months in prison but released pending appeal to the regional high court. In October Kuni was arrested again and tried for allegedly providing medical treatment to alleged “members of a terrorist organization” and for alleged membership in the PKK, despite the earlier court findings that no such link existed.
On March 15, police arrested HRA Diyarbakir chairman and national HRA vice-chairman Raci Bilici on terror-related charges. A court ordered his release on March 21. The case continued at year’s end.
On October 3, the UN Human Rights Council reported it had raised concerns with the government regarding allegations of official reprisal against Osman Isci, an academic researcher and human rights activist who was suspended in April from his research position at Agri Ibrahim Cecen University under a state of emergency decree. The council and Isci alleged the dismissal was connected to his cooperation with the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression during the latter’s official visit to the country in November 2016 and to his signing of a petition in January 2016 by academics that criticized government security policies in the southeast.
International and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty renewing their official registrations with the government, obtaining program approvals, and obtaining residency permits for their staff. Some noted that documentation requirements were unclear. In March the government revoked the registration of the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps for allegedly violating various laws and regulations. The government did not renew the registrations of Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and other international NGOs during the year. The organizations claimed that government actions against them and their staff were politically motivated because of their work in politically sensitive areas of Syria.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government has a host country agreement with UNHCR, and continues to cooperate with other UN agencies and other international bodies, including the Council of Europe.
Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the government staffed its human rights monitoring body, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI). On March 16, the government appointed 11 board members to the NHREI. According to press reports, on November 2, Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag stated that the institution had received 360 applications for assistance in response to alleged human rights abuses during the year. Critics claimed the institution was ineffective.
The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament but as an independent complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues, although dismissals under state of emergency decrees did not fall within its purview. According to online data, the office received 5,519 applications for assistance in 2016, the majority of which dealt with public personnel issues. As of December, approximately 160 cases had been resolved during the year.
The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department served as the ministry’s lead on human rights issues, coordinating with the ministry’s Victims Rights Department.
Parliament’s HRC functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members maintained dialogue with NGOs on human rights issues, although activists claimed the commission’s ability to influence government action was limited.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity or payment of a fine equal to one year’s salary.
Certain public employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, cannot form unions. The law provides for the right to strike but prohibits strikes by public workers engaged in safeguarding life and property and by workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education. For example, on March 20, the cabinet prohibited employees at Akbank from protesting, citing concerns regarding potential impact on economic and financial stability. Employees in some of these sectors were able to bargain collectively but were obligated to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.
The law allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation it determines represents a threat to public health or national security. On May 24, the cabinet prohibited a planned strike by thousands of glass workers affiliated with the Kristal-Is union, citing national security concerns. The government maintained a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must be held in officially designated areas and allow government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings. A minimum of seven workers is required to establish a trade union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the employees at a given work site and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. Labor law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties or working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, were not covered by collective bargaining laws.
The government did not enforce laws on collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances, and penalties (generally monetary fines) were insufficient to deter violations. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently. Appeals, however, could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate the individual, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.
Under the state of emergency, dismissed public-sector employees did not have access to adequate recourse to appeal their dismissals (see section 1.e.). The closure of foundations, universities, hospitals, associations, newspapers, television channels, publishing houses and distributors under state of emergency decrees left employees jobless, without their salaries and severance payments, as part of the seizure of assets by the government. In a July report, the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DISK) asserted that government actions under the state of emergency violated a range of labor rights.
The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. Police were frequently present at union meetings and conventions, and some unions reported that local authorities declined to grant permission for public activities, such as marches and press conferences. Under the state of emergency, the government disallowed a variety of public events by unions and other groups in numerous parts of the country. Authorities again restricted traditional May 1 labor day rallies in parts of the country and used tear gas to disperse participants in Istanbul’s Taksim Square but allowed a similar celebration with thousands of participants in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy District, which concluded peacefully.
According to DISK, under the state of emergency, the government postponed five strikes that it deemed threats to national security. On July 12, President Erdogan, while addressing the representatives of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, stated: “We are enforcing the state of emergency so our business world will work better. We are interfering immediately in the places that are under the threat of strike. We say no, we don’t tolerate strikes here because you cannot shake our business world.”
Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties (generally monetary fines) were insufficient to deter violations. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).
Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers used psychological coercion, threats, and debt bondage to compel victims into sex trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, it made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. Penalties for conviction of trafficking violations range from eight to 12 years’ imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent compared with other serious crimes. The government did not make data on the number of arrests and convictions related to trafficking publicly available.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from age 14 and establishes 15 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.
The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises employing 50 or fewer workers, which employed significant numbers of child laborers.
Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, driven in part by large numbers of Syrian children working in the country. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture, street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles), although overall numbers remained unclear, according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees, but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not explicitly address sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation/views. Penalties, generally monetary fines, were insufficient to prevent violations.
Women to faced discrimination in employment and generally were under-represented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society. According to government statistics based on 2015 data, women’s participation in the labor force was 27.5 percent, corresponding to more than eight million women.
For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consists of persons with disabilities; in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.
LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. Some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” Some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level of 450 lira ($118) per month.
The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Labor Ministry’s Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to the unions, the government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries.
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy which included an estimated 25 percent of GDP and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties came in the form of monetary fines but were not adequate to deter violations.
OSH remained a major challenge, particularly in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were common and regulations inconsistently enforced despite government efforts to improve OSH conditions. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,851 workplace deaths during the first 11 months of the year. In many sectors workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. Overall numbers of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country.
Unions reported that existing OSH laws and regulations did not sufficiently protect contract workers or unregistered workers. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction.