An overview of the four weeks that followed the announcement of the Turkish government's "Human Rights Action Plan" (March 2-30, 2021)
On March 2, 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled the “Human Rights Action Plan,” a 2-year plan which he said was prepared following “broad-based consultations” to “meet the needs and demands of the public.” President Erdoğan listed 11 principles set down as the plan’s main pillars. Below is our roundup on the human rights situation in Turkey over the course of the four weeks that have passed since the announcement of the plan, brought together based on Turkey Rights Monitor’s 37th, 38th, 39th and 40th issues, and with a particular focus on the fundamental rights emphasized by the government’s 11-item list.
RIGHT TO LIBERTY AND SECURITY OF THE PERSON
In three weeks, prosecutors ordered the detention of:
at least 755 people over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement,
at least 56 pro-Kurdish politicians or activists on account of their political activities or statements,
at least four journalists due to their publications or social media posts,
at least 23 people over their public or social media comments.
The authorities took no visible steps towards locating or carrying out meaningful investigation into the whereabouts of former public sector workers Yusuf Bilge Tunç and Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, who have been missing since August 2019 and December 2020 respectively, and whose family members have been campaigning on social media due to the suspicious circumstances surrounding their disappearance that closely resemble a string of documented incidents of enforced disappearance over the past five years.
On March 20, Erdoğan issued a presidential decree announcing Turkey’s withdrawal from the İstanbul Convention, the first-ever legally-binding international treaty to combat domestic violence, despite Turkey’s infamous epidemic of gender-based violence of which nearly 1,000 women were victims in 2020 alone.
PROHIBITION OF TORTURE AND INHUMAN OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT
Rights groups reported at least 10 incidents of torture in prison. Prison guards in the provinces of Aydın, Batman, Bayburt, Diyarbakır, Isparta, İstanbul, İzmir and Kahramanmaraş physically assaulted inmates. One prisoner, Kurbani Özcan, attempted to commit suicide due to the physical and psychological violence he was subjected to. The police in Şırnak mistreated a Kurdish politician in custody for four days and a group of soldiers who raided a Kurdish village in Bingöl inflicted physical violence against villagers celebrating the Kurdish festival of Newroz.
Allegations of unjustified and arbitrary strip-searches in prisons and in police custody continued, including one incident where two of the 18 women who were detained for attending Women’s Day marches in İstanbul were subjected to strip-searches in detention.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND MEDIA
In three weeks, the authorities detained at least four journalists on account of their publications or social media messages and five private social media users over their posts. After a Women’s Day march on March 8, the police in İstanbul detained 18 women, including a minor, for allegedly shouting slogans that insulted President Erdoğan.
Courts blocked access to at least two news websites as well as 120 URLs, mostly news reports, tweets and blog pages containing criticism of the government’s policies or corruption allegations implicating high-ranking bureaucrats or people close to the government.
Courts also delivered rulings on some of the ongoing cases against journalists or others involving prosecution of the exercise of legitimate speech. Courts sentenced seven journalists to a total of seven years, 47 months, 106 days in prison on account of their publications or social media commentary.
In addition, four others received a total of three years, 28 months, 106 days in prison over their public or social media commentary.
The parliament expelled MP and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu due to a prison sentence he was handed down for a tweet in which he shared a news report.
The crackdown on the pro-Kurdish opposition continued at full steam, with the detention of at least 56 politicians and the conviction of at least seven politicians and former mayors to a total of 40 years, 22 months, 60 days in prison on terrorism-related charges, mostly on account of their speeches, social media messages or attendance in peaceful assemblies. Towards the end of March, the celebrations for the traditional Kurdish festival of Newroz became the scene of mass detentions with the detention of at least 131 people across several provinces.
On March 17, a prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals asked the Constitutional Court to shut down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), following repeated calls from high-ranking government officials as well as pro-government ultranationalist circles for the party’s closure. The prosecutor’s indictment demanded a political ban for more than 600 HDP officials, including its current and jailed former co-chairs.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
Across the country, the police blocked numerous peaceful gatherings such as workers’ protests, women’s rights protests, ongoing Boğaziçi University demonstrations and the Newroz celebrations of the Kurdish population. At least 16 violent interventions against protests, demonstrations or marches ended with the detention of at least 249 people. In addition at least 30 were indicted for attending Boğaziçi University protests and 19 others were sentenced to prison for attending a commemoration event for the victims of a bomb attack in 2015.
Local governors, particularly those in the predominantly Kurdish east and southeast, continued their practice of regularly issuing lengthy blanket bans on all outdoor gatherings, citing vague national security reasons or the Covid-19 pandemic. The governors’ offices of six provinces (Van, Batman, Mardin, Hakkari, Tunceli, Şanlıurfa) imposed bans of a total of 105 days.