Human rights in Turkey

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Mural depicting human rights in Turkey. The listed rights are: consumption rights, the right of a clean environment, the right to obtain information, the right to life, voting rights, the right to education, freedom of thought, right to health, equality, habeas corpus.

Human rights in Turkey are protected by a variety of international law treaties, which take precedence over domestic legislation, according to Article 90 of the 1982 Constitution.

The issue of human rights is of high importance for the negotiations with the European Union (EU). Acute human rights issues include in particular the status of Kurds in Turkey. The Kurdish–Turkish conflict has caused numerous human rights violations over the years. There is an ongoing debate in the country on the right to life, torture, freedom of expression as well as freedoms of religion, assembly and association.

Commitment to international human rights law

The Republic of Turkey has entered various human rights commitments, some of which are expressed in the 1982 Turkish Constitution, Part Two of which guarantees "fundamental rights and freedoms" such as the right to life, security of person, and right to property. In addition, Turkey has signed a number of treaties, shown in the tables below:1

  • The European Convention on Human Rights (1954) places Turkey under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In 1987, Turkey accepted the right to apply individually to the ECtHR (Article 25 of the European Convention on Human Rights = ECHR) and 1990 recognised the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights under Article 46 of the ECHR.3

In October 2009 the European Commission on Enlargement to the European Union attested Turkey some progress on observance of international human rights law. However, implementation of some ECtHR judgments requiring legislative amendments has been outstanding for several years. Further efforts are needed to strengthening the institutional framework on human rights, in particular as regards the establishment of an independent human rights institution and of an Ombudsman.4

European Court of Human Rights judgments

Number of decisions
made by the ECtHR.
(Some cases did not
find a violation)
5
Year Decisions
1995 3
1996 5
1997 8
1998 18
1999 19
2000 39
2001 218
2002 99
2003 123
2004 171
2005 290
2006 334
2007 331
2008 264
20096 356
20107 278
20118 159
20129 123

Turkey's human rights record has long continued to attract scrutiny, both internally and externally. According to the Foreign Ministry, Turkey was sentenced to 33 million euros in 567 different cases between 1990—when Turkey effectively allowed individual applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)—and 2006.5 Most abuses were done in the South-East, in the frame of the Kurdish–Turkish conflict.5

In 2007, there were 2830 applications lodged against the Republic of Turkey before the ECtHR and consequently 331 judgments on the merits have been issued affirming 319 violations and 9 non-violations.10 In 2008, Turkey ranked second after Russia in the list of countries with the largest number of human rights violation cases open at the European Court of Human Rights, with 9,000 cases pending as of August 2008.5 In 2011, the ECtHR issued 159 judgments that found violations by Turkey, the most of any country, with Russia coming second at 121 judgments.11

Between 1 November 1998 and 31 December 2008 the ECtHR received 24,945 applications from Turkey. It declared 2,237 cases admissible and 13,615 inadmissible.12 During the same time it reached 1,905 judgments finding at least one violation in 1,652 cases.12 While there are hardly any decision regarding Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ban of discrimination), many judgments concerning Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 of the Convention (ban of torture) were taken on procedural grounds rather than testifying an involvement of State agencies.13 According to the European Commission on Enlargement of the EU Turkey continued to make progress on the execution of ECtHR judgments. All pecuniary compensation was paid on time, totalling €5.2 million in 2008.4

The ECtHR has heard nine cases against Turkey concerning political party bans by the Constitutional Court of Turkey.14 In all but one case (which concerned the Islamist Welfare Party), the European Court has ruled against the decision to ban, finding Turkey in violation of articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention (freedom of expression and freedom of association).14 The ECtHR's decision concerning the Welfare Party has been criticized for lack of consistency with its other decisions, in particular by Human Rights Watch.14

One ECtHR judgment sentenced Turkey to a 103,000 euros fine for its decisions about the Yüksekova Gang (aka "the gang with uniforms"), related to the JİTEM clandestine gendarmerie intelligence unit.5 The EHCR also sentenced in 2006 Turkey to a 28,500 Euros fine for the JİTEM murder of 72-years-old Kurdish writer Musa Anter, in 1992 in Diyarbakir.5 Other cases include the 2000 Akkoç v. Turkey judgment, concerning the assassination of a trade-unionist; or the Loizidou v. Turkey case in 1996, which set a precedent in the Cyprus dispute, as the ECtHR ordered Turkey to give financial compensation to a person expelled from the Turkish-controlled side of Cyprus.

The ECtHR also awarded in 2005 Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana 9000 € from the Turkish government, ruling Turkey had violated her rights of free expression. Zana, who had been recognized as prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and had been awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, had been jailed in 1994, allegedly for being a member of the outlawed PKK, but officiously for having spoken Kurdish in public during her parliamentary oath.

The right to life

The right to life may be threatened by other means than the death penalty. In particular during the 1990s there were many instances of extrajudicial executions, (political) killings by unidentified perpetrators (faili meçhul cinayetler) and cases of "disappearances".

Capital punishment

The death penalty has not been implemented in Turkey since 1984. Turkey abolished the sentence for peace time offences in 2002 and for all offences in 2004. The sentence was replaced by aggravated life imprisonment (ağırlaştırılmış müebbet hapis cezası). According to Article 9 of Law 5275 on the Execution of Sentences15 these prisoners are held in individual cells in high security prisons and are allowed to exercise in a neighbouring yard one hour per day.

Extra-judicial executions

In 1990 Amnesty International published its first report on extrajudicial executions in Turkey.16 In the following years the problem became more serious. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey determined the following figures on extrajudicial executions in Turkey for the years 1991 to 2001:17

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
98 283 189 129 96 129 98 80 63 56 37

In 2001 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, presented a report on a visit to Turkey.18 The report presented details of killings of prisoners (26 September 1999, 10 prisoners killed in a prison in Ankara; 19 December 2000, an operation in 20 prisons launched throughout Turkey resulted in the death of 30 inmates and two gendarmes).

For the years 2000-2008 the Human Rights Association (HRA) gives the following figures on doubtful deaths/deaths in custody/extra judicial execution/torture by paid village guards19

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
173 55 40 44 47 89 130 66 65

In 2008 the human rights organization Mazlum Der counted 25 extrajudicial killings in Turkey.20

Unsolved killings

The mass violations of human rights in the mainly Kurdish-populated southeast and eastern regions of Turkey in the 1990s took the form of enforced disappearances and killings by unknown perpetrators which the state authorities showed no willingness to solve.21 In 2009 the Human Rights Association stated that up to the end of 2008 a total of 2,949 people had been killed by unknown perpetrators and 2,308 people had become victims of extrajudicial executions.22

A parliamentary commission to research killings by unknown perpetrators (faili meçhul cinayetleri araştırma komisyonu) was founded in 1993 and worked for about two years. Many members complained that they had not been assisted and their work had been undermined.23 One member of the commission, Eyüp Aşık, stated that the Turkish Hezbollah had been behind many of these killings and added that the State had had three effective arms in the fight against terrorism: special teams, village guards and Hezbollah. Although he had witnessed about 80 actions of Hezbollah in Adıyaman province the then Minister for the Interior had said that there was nothing by that name. This in turn had made him believe that the State supported Hezbollah.23

Human Rights Watch (HRW) first called for an investigation of links between Hezbollah and the security forces in 1992.24 In a separate report HRW stated: "During 1992 there was an extremely disturbing increase in the number of suspicious deaths in southeast Turkey. Hundreds of people were killed by unknown assailants; many of those people were leaders or in positions of responsibility in the Kurdish community -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, political leaders, journalists, human rights activists, businessmen... Human rights activists were among the victims. Thirteen of the suspicious killings since January 1992 were of journalists."25

Based on the data of the Interior Ministry, the daily “Zaman” reported that between 1987-2001 a total of 2,914 political killings, 1,334 of them in the responsibility area of the police and 1,580 in area of the gendarmerie, were committed in the Eastern and Southern Eastern Anatolia Regions. 457 of the killings in areas of the police and 1,291 in areas of the gendarmerie had not been clarified.26

The following figures were presented in the annual reports of the HRFT between 1990 and 200126

Year 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Victims 11 31 362 467 423 166 113 65 45 52 13 24

The Human Rights Association (HRA) presents the following figures for the years 1999 to 2008:27

Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Victims 212 145 160 75 50 47 1 20 42 29

The Human Rights Association Mazlumder presented figures on killing by unknown assailants and suspicious death for the years 2005 to 2008:28

Year 2005 2006 2007 2008
Incident 170 138 384 315
Victims 203 167 373 343

"Disappearances"

In Turkey, the military campaign against Kurdish secessionists in Eastern Anatolia has been accompanied by numerous enforced disappearances, which also gave rise to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.29 There were only a handful of cases of "disappearances" in Turkey in the 1980s, but a high number of deaths in custody.30 The opposite was true for the 1990s, when the number of people who "disappeared" after having been abducted by agents of the States rapidly increased.31

In 1998 the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances issued a Report on the visit to Turkey by two members of the Working Group from 20–26 September 1998. It stated inter alias: "Most of the disappearances concerned persons of Kurdish ethnic origin and occurred in the provinces of Diyarbakir and Siirt, in south-east Anatolia, where the armed and security forces are combating the PKK and where a state of emergency is in force. Some of the reported disappearances took place in Antalya, Izmir and Istanbul. Most of the cases followed the same pattern: the missing persons had allegedly been arrested at their homes on charges of belonging to the PKK and taken to the police station but their detention was later denied by the authorities."32 In her report of 18 December 2001 the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, wrote: While the number of cases of abductions or “disappearances” have decreased over the last few years, at the time of the Special Rapporteur’s visit such incidents still did occur, particularly in the remote areas of south-east Turkey, and there was deep concern at the recent disappearance of two persons.18

Special bus placed close to the action of the Saturday mothers

In some places on the Internet a list attributed to the HRA can be found (but not on the website of the HRA). It is said that the original list contained 839 names, but that adding further names the list covered 1,251 names in the end.33 In a revised list that covers only the time between 1980 and 1999 Helmut Oberdiek reached a figure of 818 cases of "disappearances" in Turkey.34

The so-called Saturday Mothers held weekly protests against "disappearances" between May 1995 and 1999.35 They had to suspend their action on 13 March 199936 after week 200, because of intense pressure, detention and ill-treatment.37 In March 2009 the Saturday Mothers took their action up again.38

Torture

The widespread and systematic use of torture in Turkey was first observed by Amnesty International (AI) after the 1971 Turkish coup d'état.39 Until 2002 the organization continued to speak of systematic torture in Turkey.40 Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enlargement of the European Union went to Turkey in September 2004 and maintained that torture was no longer systematic practice in Turkey.41 The Human Rights Association (HRA) protested against this evaluation42 and pointed at recent figures and definitions of systematic torture by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Committee against Torture.43

Since 2005 incidents of torture seem to be on the rise.44 According to an October report by the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency (HRP), the number of torture and cruel treatment cases reported in the first six months of the year surpassed the number reported in the first half of 2007. The HRP reported that, in the first half of the year, 178 persons reported cruel treatment and 26 reported torture, up from 79 reports of cruel treatment and 17 reports of torture during the same period in 2007.44 In the report on progress of November 2008 the European Commission stated, "the number of applications to NGOs in relation to cases of torture and ill-treatment has increased, in particular outside official places of detention, notably during apprehension, transfer, or in the open with no detention registered... There is a lack of prompt, impartial and independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations by members of security forces."45 In the 2009 annual report Amnesty International stated: "Reports of torture and other ill-treatment rose during 2008, especially outside official places of detention but also in police stations and prisons."46 In its 2012 Annual Review, Freedom from Torture the UK charity which works with survivors of victims of torture, stated that the charity had received 79 referrals of individuals from Turkey for clinical treatment and other services.47

Deaths in custody

An important characteristics of the period following the 12 September 1980 military intervention was the disregard to the right to life and the increase in torture cases and deaths due to torture.48 The HRFT published two reports on Deaths in Custody (14 and 15 years since the military take over) presenting a list of 419 deaths in custody (in 15 years) with a suspicion that torture might have been the reason. Another 15 deaths were attributed to hunger strikes while medical neglect was given as the reason for 26 deaths.49 On the basis of this list Helmut Oberdiek compiled a revised list for 20 years (12 September 1980 to 12 September 2000) and concluded that in 428 cases torture may have been the reason for the death of prisoners.50 In 2008 alone the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey reported of 39 deaths in prison. In some cases torture was involved.51 In 2012, two prison guards and an official were given life sentences for the torture death of activist Engin Çeber, the first such verdict in Turkey's history.52

Prison conditions

Turkey has repeatedly been criticized for poor prison conditions and in particular for not solving the problem of overcrowding.53 Following the 1980 Turkish coup d'état political prisoners tried in military courts were held in military prisons and were thus subjected to military discipline. Prisoners were obliged to participate in daily roll-calls, the singing of marches and drills in the open air.54 In particular, Diyarbakır and Mamak Military Prisons (the latter in Ankara) became notorious for the routine beatings which accompanied attempts to enforce military discipline among civilians. In addition, so-called "inaugural-beatings" had been institutionalized in almost all prisons in Turkey.54

In 2008 allegations of ill-treatment in prisons and during transfer continued. Small-group isolation remained a problem across the prison system for people accused or convicted of politically motivated offences.55 The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey registered 39 deaths in prison.56

Freedom of religion

Although its population is overwhelmingly Muslim, Turkey is a secular country per Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution. The two main Islamic streams in Turkey are Sunni and Alevi, a branch of Shia Islam. In Turkey Alevi are the minority, estimated at 17 percent of the Muslim population.57

Religious education is compulsory in primary and secondary education (Article 24 of the Constitution). Mainly Sunni theology is taught. The government oversees Muslim religious facilities and education through its Directorate of Religious Affairs, which is under the authority of the Prime Ministry. The Directory regulates the operation of the country's 77,777 registered mosques and employs local and provincial imams, who are civil servants. Sunni imams are nominated and paid by the state.44 The Alevis pray in cemevis. "Cemevleri" (places of gathering) have no legal status as places of worship in the state. However, Kuşadası and Tunceli municipalities ruled in 2008 that Alevi cemevleri are considered places of worship.44

Exact figures on the non-Islamic population in Turkey are not available. Some sources estimate the Christian population between three and five percent.57 Their communities mainly exist in Istanbul with Armenian and Greek-Orthodox Christians; in southeastern Turkey other groups like the Syriacs and Yazidi (a syncretistic faith) can be found. In the big cities Jewish and other communities such as the Jehovah's Witnesses exist.57 According to the Treaty of Lausanne only the Armenian, Greek and Jewish communities are recognized as minorities.

According to the Islamist human rights organization Mazlumder, the military charged individuals with lack of discipline for activities that included performing Muslim prayers or being married to women who wore headscarves. In December 2008 the General Staff issued 24 dismissals, five of which pertained to alleged Islamic fundamentalism.44 According to the progress report 2008 of the European Union freedom of religion, freedom of worship continued to be generally respected. The Law on foundations adopted in February 2008 addresses, among other things, a number of property issues regarding non-Muslim minorities.45

Freedom of expression

Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution guarantee the "freedom of expression" and "unhindered dissemination of thought". Paragraph 2 of Article 27 affirms that "the right to disseminate shall not be exercised for the purpose of changing the provisions of Articles 1, 2 and 3 of [the] Constitution", articles in question referring to the unitary, secular, democratic and republican nature of the state.

Law 765 (the old penal code) that entered into force on 1 March 1926 restricted freedom of expression, despite several amendments.58 Law 5237 that replaced the old penal code on 1 June 2005 preserved several provisions that restrict freedom of thought and expression.58 A number of special laws such as the Law 5816 (offences against the memory of Atatürk), Press Law and the Law on Political Parties also restrict freedom of expression.59

In the 1970s and 1980s the Articles 141 (membership of communist organizations), 142 (communist or separatist propaganda) and 163 (membership of or propaganda for anti-secular organizations) of Law 765 (the Turkish Penal Code, TPC) were most frequently used to punish peaceful opposition.59 On 12 April 1991 Law 3713 on the Fight against Terrorism (or Anti-Terror Law, ATL) entered into force. It abolished these provisions, but retained part of Article 142 TPC in Article 8 ATL.58 Journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and trade unionists were convicted under this provision, often simply for having used the word "Kurdistan".60

After the European Court of Human Rights had passed more than 100 judgments finding a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights some changes were made to existing legislation.61 Article 8 of the ATL was abolished by Law 4928 of 30 July 2003. Another frequently used Article 312/2 of the TPC (incitement to hatred and enmity) was amended by Law 4744 of 9 February 2002. The new version narrowed the use of this Article by introducing the condition if the incitement might endanger public order. The new wording (and sentences) for such an "offence" are now contained in Article 216 of Law 5237. The sentence that mere criticism should not be punishable under Article 159 of Law 765 (denigrating Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey) was added to the law text, although this had already been established in the case law. The "offence" is now described in Article 301 of Law 5237.

After severe criticism from NGOs and European institutions Article 301 was once again amended on 30 April 2008. The amendments introduced a requirement for permission to be obtained from the Justice Minister in order to launch a criminal investigation.45

Following the adoption of the amendments to Article 301, Turkish courts had forwarded, by September 2008, 257 cases to the Minister of Justice for prior authorisation. The Minister had reviewed 163 cases and refused to grant permission to proceed in 126 cases.45 The Minister of Justice authorised the criminal investigations to continue in 37 cases. This included one case which was initiated following a statement made by a Turkish writer on the Armenian issue shortly after the assassination of the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, Hrant Dink.45

Other legal provisions that restrict freedom of expression include Articles 215, 216 and 217 of the Turkish Criminal Code, that criminalise offences against public order, and the Anti-Terror Law have been applied to prosecute and convict those expressing non-violent opinions on Kurdish issues.45626364

The use of the Turkish alphabet is mandated by law, reflecting the historic transition from an Arabic to a Latin script.

Conscientious objection

There is currently no provision for conscientious objection. Article 72 of the Turkish Constitution states: “National service is the right and duty of every Turk. The manner in which this service shall be performed, or considered as performed, either in the Armed Forces or in public service, shall be regulated by law”. This in principle would allow for a non-military alternative.65 Turkey, Belarus and Azerbaijan are the only European countries that have not introduced any legislation on conscientious objection.66

In January 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits degrading treatment in a case relating to Osman Murat Ulke, the first conscientious objector to be imprisoned for his objection.67 Another conscientious objector, Mehmet Tarhan, was sentenced to four years in prison by a military court in 2005 for refusing to do his military service, but he was later released in March 2006. However, he is still a convict and shall be arrested on sight. In a related case, journalist Perihan Mağden was tried and acquitted by a Turkish court for supporting Tarhan and advocating conscientious objection as a human right.

Since 1989, 74 people have refused to perform compulsory military service in Turkey. Only six of them have been tried for being a conscientious objector or sent to the military unit they were assigned to after being captured.68 COs may be punished under Article 63 of the Turkish Military Penal Code for avoiding military service. COs who attract media attention or publish articles about their refusal to perform military service may also be punished to between six months’ and two years' imprisonment under Article 318 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "alienating the people from the armed forces". In 2004, a new Criminal Code was introduced (Law No 5237). Under the previous Criminal Code, "alienating people from the armed forces" was punishable under Article 155 with a similar term of imprisonment.69

Some members of religious denominations who forbid their members to bear arms, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses, have also refused to perform military service. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses have regularly been sentenced to imprisonment under Article 63 of the Penal Code for avoiding military service. In recent years, Jehovah's Witnesses are reportedly regularly allowed to perform unarmed military service within the armed forces. They have complied with this.69 Muhammed Serdar Delice, a young Muslim, declared his conscientious objection to military service in 2011 and argued that his objection was based on his Muslim faith. After serving a few months in the Armed Forces he claimed that he had experienced disrespectful interference with his religious practice, as well as indoctrination about Turkey's three-decade-old war with Kurdish insurgents.70 Most Kurds are fellow Muslims.

Further instances of imprisonment included

  • Halil Savda: He was sentenced to 21.5 months' imprisonment71
  • Mehmet Bal: He was repeatedly imprisoned in 2002, 2003 and 200872 He was allegedly beaten in prison.73

The Council of Europe and the United Nations have regularly called upon Turkey to legally recognise the right to conscientious objection. In March 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated that: “Despite Turkey’s geostrategic position, the Assembly demands that Turkey recognises the right to conscientious objection and introduce an alternative civilian service”.69 In September 2009 the Turkish press reported that the Turkish government is considering creating regulations regarding conscientious objectors. According to the amendment planned on the issue, those refusing to perform compulsory military service will no longer be forcibly drafted to the military while they are under detention and will be able to be defended by a lawyer while being tried. They will also be able to benefit from the Probation Law.68

Quotes on free opinion in Turkey

  • Amnesty International: "Human rights defenders, writers, journalists and others were unjustly prosecuted under unfair laws and subjected to arbitrary decisions by judges and prosecutors. Courts also acted disproportionately when shutting down websites on the basis of posted items. People expressing dissenting views remained at risk, with individuals threatened with violence by unknown individuals or groups. Police bodyguards were provided in a number of cases."74
  • Human Rights Watch: "Critical and open debate increased, even as restrictions on free speech continue."75
  • US Department of State: The government limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws, including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government, the state, the "Turkish nation," or the institution and symbols of the republic. Limitations on freedom of expression applied to the Internet, and courts and an independent board ordered telecommunications providers to block access to Web sites on approximately 1,475 occasions.76
  • European Union: "There has been some progress in the efforts to strengthen the safeguards for freedom of expression, which is a priority of the Accession Partnership. However, only a consistent track record of implementation will show whether or not the revised article is adequate."45

Freedom of assembly

Article 34 of the 1982 Constitute (as amended on October 17, 2001) states, "Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission." Restrictions may only be introduced on the grounds of national security, and public order, or prevention of crime commitment, public health and public morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Article 3 of Law 2911 on demonstrations and meeting provides, "Everybody has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful assembly without prior permission."77 Nevertheless Amnesty International stated in 2009 that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was denied, and law enforcement officials used excessive force to disperse demonstrations.74

Deaths due to excessive police force during demonstrations have a long history in Turkey. They include

  • Taksim Square massacre of 1 May 1977, death toll varies between 34 and 42
  • Further casualties on 1 May Labour Day (all in Istanbul):
    • 1989: 1 person killed78
    • 1996: 3 demonstrators killed.
  • Newroz celebrations; usually on or around 21 March each year
    • Newroz 1991: 31 people shot dead79 The annual report of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reported that one demonstrator was killed in Nusaybin.80
    • Newroz 1992: The Newroz festivities left at least 91 people dead in three towns of the southeast, Cizre, Sirnak and Nusaybin, and 9 others elsewhere in the region, and according to Helsinki Watch, 'all or nearly all of the casualties resulted from unprovoked, unnecessary and unjustified attacks by Turkish security forces against peaceful Kurdish civilian demonstrators'.81
    • Newroz 1993: Three people were killed in Adana and Batman.82
  • Different occasions
    • Funeral of Vedat Aydin in Diyarbakir in June 1991, 15 people were shot dead83 The annual report of the HRFT reported that seven demonstrators were killed.80
    • Demonstration in Digor because of the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the armed fight of the PKK on 15 August 1984. 15 demonstrators were killed.84
    • 20 people died in Gazi and 1 May quarter of Istanbul during an unrest that started with shots on coffee shop frequented by Alevis.85
    • Funeral of PKK militants at the end of March 2006: 13 people were killed in Diyarbakir and further places86

Freedom of association

The law provides for freedom of association. Under the law persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad, and must provide detailed documents on such activities.44

The Constitution affirms the right of workers to form labor unions "without obtaining permission" and "to possess the right to become a member of a union and to freely withdraw from membership" (Article 51). Articles 53 and 54 affirm the right of workers to bargain collectively and to strike, respectively.

Until March 2008 a total of 26 political parties had been banned, two of them before the Constitutional Court (the place where such decisions are taken) was established on 25 April 1962.87 This figure does not include the 18 political parties that were banned immediately after the 1980 coup d'état and dissolved on 16 October 1981. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey passed Law 2533 on 19 June 1992 allowing these parties to be opened again.88

The Foundation for social, economic and political research (TESAV) has detailed information on the closure of political parties. They list ten political parties (instead of two) that were closed before the Constitutional Court was established.89 The details are (in collapsible tables)

1. political parties closed before the Constitutional Court was founded:

2. Political parties closed by the Constitutional Court

For the number of associations, trade unions, political parties and cultural centres that were closed down or raided the Human Rights Association presented the following figure for the years 1999 to 2008:91

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Closure 169 130 146 127 47 13 5 6 13 11
Raids 266 156 216 83 88 35 7 48 36 103

Ethnic rights

Though Turkey is a land of vast ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity – home not only to Turks, Kurds and Armenians, but also, among others, Alevis, Ezidis, Assyrians, Laz, Caferis, Roma, Greeks, Caucasians and Jews, the history of the state is one of severe repression of minorities in the name of nationalism.92 (See Demographics of Turkey).

According to Article 66 of the Turkish Constitution, "everyone bound to the Turkish state through the bond of citizenship is a Turk". The Constitution affirms the principle of the indivisibility of the Turkish Nation and of constitutional citizenship that is not based on ethnicity. Consequently, the word "Turkish" legally refers to all citizens of Turkey, though individual interpretation can be more limited. According to the constitution, there are no minority rights since all citizens are equal before the law. Although the Treaty of Lausanne, before the proclamation of the Republic, guarantees some rights to non-Muslim minorities, in practise Turkey has recognised only Armenians, Greeks and Jews as minorities and excluded other non-Muslim groups, such as Assyrians and Yazidis, from the minority status and these rights.93 Advocacy for protection of minorities' rights can lead to legal prosecutions as a number of provisions in Turkish law prohibits creation of minorities or alleging existence of minorities, such as Article 81 of the Law on Political Parties.

Kurdish people

Due to the large population of Kurdish people, successive governments have viewed the expression of a Kurdish identity as a potential threat to Turkish unity, a feeling that has been compounded since the armed rebellion initiated by the PKK in 1984. One of the main accusations of cultural assimilation comes from the state's historic suppression of the Kurdish language. Kurdish publications created throughout the 1960s and 1970s were shut down under various legal pretexts.94 Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited from government institutions.95 The Kurdish alphabet is not recognized.95

Since 2002, as part of its reforms aimed at European Union integration and under pressure to further the rights of Kurds, Turkey passed laws allowing Kurdish radio and television broadcasts as well the option of private Kurdish education.96 In 2010 a master level and in 2011 a graduate level university program were started and a Kurdish Language and Literature Department was established in the state-owned Mardin Artuklu University.9798

In August 2009, Turkish government begun restoring names of Kurdish villages, as well as considering allowing religious sermons to be made in Kurdish as part of reforms to answer the grievances of the ethnic minority and advance its EU candidacy.99

More than 4,000 Kurds were arrested in 2011, including dozens of journalists and politicians. Mass trials of local deputies, mayors, academics and human rights activists have occurred in Diyarbakir. Hundreds of Kurds remain in pre-trial detention, some of them for many months.100

In January 2013, the Turkish parliament passed a law that permits use of the Kurdish language in the courts, albeit with restrictions.101102 The law was passed by votes of the ruling AKP and the pro-Kurdish rights opposition party BDP, against criticism from the secularist CHP party and the nationalist MHP, with MHP and CHPcitation needed deputies nearly coming to blows with BDP deputies over the law. In spite of their support in the parliament, the BDP was critical of the provision in the law that the defendants will pay for the translation fees and that the law applies only to spoken defense in court but not to a written defense or the pre-trial investigation.103 According to one source102 the law does not comply with EU standards.which? Deputy prime minister of Turkey Bekir Bozdağ replied to criticism of the law from both sides saying that the fees of defendants who does not speak Turkish will be paid by the state, while, those who speak Turkish yet prefer to speak in the court in another language will have to pay the fees themselves.104 European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle welcomed the new law.105

In February 2013, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a meeting with Muslim opinion leaders, that he has "positive views" about imams delivering sermons in Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic, according to the most widely spoken language among the mosque attendees. This move received support from Kurdish politicians and human rights groups.106

Minority languages

Until reforms that started in 2002, there were legal restrictions on publishing in minority languages except for Greek, Armenian and Hebrew which are the languages of minorities officially recognized by the Lausanne Treaty. Since September 2002, those minorities, too, have the right to operate private courses that teach any language spoken in Turkey.107 Some of the Kurdish courses were closed down by their owners in 2005 due to a lack of interest.108 However, as of 2010, there were active Kurdish language courses with increasing number of students.109 In 2008, privately owned Istanbul Bilgi University started to give Kurdish courses. In 2009, Turkish Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu) announced that there were no legal obstacles for teaching Kurdish language in universities.110 In 2010, state-owned Mardin Artuklu University started a master-level Kurdish language and literature ("Kurdology")program.97 Dicle University, another Turkish state university in Diyarbakır, started to give Kurdish courses in June 2011.111112 In September 2011, the first undergraduate level Kurdish Language and Literature Department in Turkey was opened in the Mardin Artuklu University. According to the deputy rector of the university, this was not only the first university department on this subject in Turkey, but also the first one of the whole world.98

NGOs have called on Turkey to adopt the definitions of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. If Turkey were to become a signatory to this treaty, it would have to accept and subsidise the education of minorities in their own first languages, and that for at least all the period of mandatory education. To this day 21 member states of the Council of Europe out of 49 have proceeded with ratification.113

The state-owned TRT has been broadcasting short programmes in a number of minority languages, including Bosnian, Arabic, Kabardian and Kurdish, since July 2003.114 The legal basis were the Regulation on the Language of Radio and Television Broadcasts of December 2002115 In the beginning TV programs were restricted to 45 minutes per day; radio programs had a limit of 60 minutes per day.114 In June 2006 the restrictions were lifted for music and film programs in minority languages.114

Since January 2006 the official TV channel TRT has established an additional channel TRT 6 that is broadcasting in the Kurmanji, Sorani dialects of Kurdish and also in the Zaza language. There were plans to broadcast in Armenian as well.116

Other discrimination

Women

In the 1930s, Turkey became one of the first countries in the world to give full political rights to women, including the right to elect and be elected locally (in 1930) and nationwide (in 1934). Therefore, the Constitution was amended.117

Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution bans any discrimination, state or private, on the grounds of sex. Turkey elected a female prime minister, Tansu Çiller in 1995. It is also the first country which had a woman as the President of its Constitutional Court, Tülay Tuğcu. In addition, Turkish Council of State, the supreme court for administrative cases, also has a woman judge Sumru Çörtoğlu as its President. However, representation of women in political and decision making bodies is low. In the Grand National Assembly of Turkey the percentage of women is 9.1 (17.3 percent is the average in the world).117 In 1975 the percentage was 10.9 and in 2006 it was 16.3.118 Only 5.58 percent of mayors are women and in the whole of Turkey there is one governor (among 81) and 14 local governors.117

Since 1985, Turkish women have the right to freely exercise abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and the right to contraceptive medicine paid for by the Social Security. Modifications to the Civil Code in 1926 gave the right to women to initiate and obtain a divorce; a right still not recognized in Malta,119 an EU country.

Nevertheless, in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia regions, older attitudes prevail among the local Kurdish, Turkish and Arab populations, where women still face domestic violence, forced marriages, and so-called honor killings.120 To combat this, the government and various other foundations are engaged in education campaigns in Southeastern Anatolia to improve the rate of literacy and education levels of women.121

In 2008, critics have pointed out that Turkey has become a major market for foreign women who are coaxed and forcibly brought to the country by international mafia to work as sex slaves, especially in big and touristic cities.122123124

A 2008 poll by the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey showed that almost half of urban Turkish women believe economic independence for women is unnecessary reflecting, in the view of psychologist Leyla Navaro, a heritage of patriarchy.125

Sexuality

Istanbul Gay Pride Parade, 2008, Istiklal Street, Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Homosexual sexual relationships between consenting adults in private is not a crime in Turkey. The age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual sex is eighteen. On the other hand, the criminal code has vaguely worded prohibitions on "public exhibitionism" and "offenses against public morality" that are sometimes used to discriminate against the LGBT community. As of 2006, Turkey neither has a law permitting homosexuals to get married, nor does it have a law against the discrimination of Turkey's LGBT community. Lambda Istanbul, a LGBT organization founded in 1996, was dissolved in May 2008 following a court decision. The prosecution argued that its objectives went against "the law and morality", but Human Rights Watch has criticized the decision, claiming it had been closed only on procedural grounds.126 On 28 November 2008, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned an Istanbul court's decision ordering the closure of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender solidarity organization, Lambda Istanbul.44

Homosexuals have the right to exemption from military service, if they so request, only if their "condition" is verified by medical and psychological tests, which often involves presenting humiliating, graphic proof of homosexuality, and anal examination.127

The killing of Ebru Soykan, a prominent transgender human rights activist, on March 10, 2009, shows a continuing climate of violence based on gender identity that authorities should urgently take steps to combat, Human Rights Watch said on 13 March 2009.128 News reports and members of a Turkish human rights group said that an assailant stabbed and killed Ebru, 28, in her home in the center of Istanbul. Members of Lambda Istanbul, which works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual (LGBTT) people, told Human Rights Watch that in the last month Ebru had asked the Prosecutor's Office for protection from the man who had beaten her on several occasions and threatened to kill her. Lambda Istanbul was told that a few weeks ago police detained the man but released him two hours later. The same man is under police custody as the murder suspect.128

On 21 May 2008 Human Rights Watch published a 123-page report documenting a long and continuing history of violence and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Turkey. Human Rights Watch conducted more than 70 interviews over a three-year period, documenting how gay men and transgender people face beatings, robberies, police harassment, and the threat of murder. The interviews also exposed the physical and psychological violence lesbian and bisexual women and girls confront within their families. Human Rights Watch found that, in most cases, the response by the authorities is inadequate if not nonexistent.129

Disabled citizens

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by the Turkish Republic on 30 March 2007. The convention was discussed in TBMM (Turkish Grand National Assembly) on 8 May 2008 and it was ratified on 3 December 2008.130 In July 2005 Law 5378 on Disabled People was enacted.131

In one particular case, an advocacy group for people with mental disabilities called Mental Disability Rights International criticized the treatment of the mentally ill in a report called "Behind Closed Doors: Human Rights Abuses in the Psychiatric Facilities, Orphanages and Rehabilitation Centers of Turkey".132 As a result of this criticism, Turkey's largest psychiatric hospital, the Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital in Istanbul, abolished the use of "unmodified" ECT procedures.133

Racism

Analysts pointed (in 2010) to racism and hate speech on the rise in Turkey, including against Armenians and against Jews. The report says "If one goes through the press in Turkey, one would easily find cases of racism and hate speech, particularly in response to the deplorable carnage and suffering in Gaza. These are the cases in which there is no longer a distinction between criticizing and condemning Israel's acts and placing Jews on the firing line."134

Religion

Mistreatment of religious minorities is a common problem in Turkey. Christians for example live in fear of persecution and suffer from discriminatory laws that give non-Muslims disadvantages in comparison to the country's Muslim majority. 135

Alongside discriminated religious minorities are the Alevis who's "Muslimness" is still unconfirmed. As a result of national and government policy, their religious rights are also restricted and at many instances are a persecuted religious minority.136

Hate crimes

During 2008 there has been an increase in "hate crimes" in Turkey originating from racism, nationalism and intolerance.137 Despite provisions in the Constitution and the laws there have been no convictions for a hate crime so far, from either racism or discrimination.137 Since the beginning of 2006 a number of killings were committed in Turkey against people of ethnic or religious minorities or different sexual orientation or social sexual identity. Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code provides for a general ban of publicly inciting people to hatred and disgust.137

Turkey does not appear to be the scene of large-scale or overt expressions of racism against individuals in the strictest sense of term. However, one of the main challenges facing Turkey in the field of ECRI's (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) concerns would appear to be the need to reconcile the strong sense of national identity and the wish to preserve the unity and integrity of the State with the right of different minority groups within Turkey to express their own sense of ethnic identity, for example through the maintenance and development of linguistic and cultural aspects of that identity.138

  • See also: Hate Crimes in Turkey; Documentation prepared by the Democratic Turkey Forum, cases between 2007–2009

Internally displaced people

Around a million people became displaced from towns and villages in south-eastern Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the insurgent actions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the counter-insurgency policies of the Turkish government.139

The Migrants’ Association for Social Cooperation and Culture (GÖÇ-DER) was founded in Istanbul in 1997. Branches were later established in Diyarbakir, Van and Hakkari. GÖÇ-DER has been sued five times for its activities. Four of them ended in acquittal.140 One case demanding the closure of GÖÇ-DER Diyarbakir is still pending after the Court of Cassation cancelled the decision of Diyarbakir Judicial Court No. 1 not to band the association. This court has to hear the case again and scheduled the next hearing for 2 February 2010.141

In July 2008 Beşir Atalay, Minister of the Interior, answered a request by CHP for Adıyaman province, Şevket Köse. He said that 314,000 people had applied for aid in order to return to their village. As of May 2008 151,469 people had returned to their villages in 14 provinces. They had been paid about 530 million Turkish Lira.142

On 12 April 2006, Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Sugden was detained by police in Bingöl, while he was carrying out research in the predominately Kurdish southeast of the country into the possibilities for IDPs to return and abuses allegedly involving the Turkish gendarmerie and government-armed local defense units called “village guards.” He was deported to London the next day.143

Workers' rights

The Constitution affirms the right of workers to form labor unions "without obtaining permission" and "to possess the right to become a member of a union and to freely withdraw from membership" (Article 51). Articles 53 and 54 affirm the right of workers to bargain collectively and to strike, respectively. The law prohibits strikes by civil servants, public workers engaged in the safeguarding of life and property, workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education; however, many workers in these sectors conducted strikes in violation of these restrictions with general impunity. The law requires that, in order to become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 50 percent plus one of the employees at a given work site and 10 percent of all the workers in that particular industry. Labor law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties and from working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise44

Most labor experts in the country estimated that approximately 20 percent of the wage and salary workers in the labor force were unionized. Turkey has had a standard state-run pensions system based on European models since the 1930s. Furthermore, since 1999, Turkey has a state-run unemployment insurance system, introduced by Law 4447144 obligatory for all declared workers.

See also

References

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