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27 January

"Rights violations, media crackdown deteriorating in Turkey"

With the collapse of the Kurdish peace process, Turkey's human rights environment took on an even bleaker look, HRW says in new report

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the environment for human rights in Turkey deteriorated in 2015 “with the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, a sharp escalation of violence in the southeast, and a crackdown on media and political opponents” in its latest World Report, which was launched in Istanbul on January 27.

In a statement about the report, HRW said: “While securing a fourth term in office in the November 2015 election after inconclusive June elections, the ruling party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have pursued policies that dramatically undermine human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Turkey.”

“Turkey’s trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The combination of the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process and crackdown on media and political opponents over the past year spell dark times ahead and take Turkey further away from the goal of being a rights-respecting country.”

The report noted that the breakdown of the government-initiated peace process with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was accompanied by “an increase in violent attacks, armed clashes, and human rights abuses in the second half of the year.” It added, “The latter included violations of the right to life, arrests of non-violent protesters and activists on terrorism charges, and ill-treatment of detainees.”

The report also listed a number of attacks on the offices of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP), and several suicide bombings believed to have been staged by ISIS. It also gave a detailed account of the recent blanket curfews announced in the Southeast, during which dozens of civilians were killed and recalled the assassination of human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi on Nov. 28.

“Despite thousands of killings and enforced disappearances of Kurds by security forces in the 1990s, only a handful of military personnel have faced criminal trial; in four cases in 2015, military personnel were acquitted, and in no case convicted.”

Media freedom

The report also provided an account of extensive restrictions imposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey in 2015, adding that there have been government-led attempts to “discredit the political opposition and prevent scrutiny of government policies.”

The arrests of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in November following a news report showing trucks laden with weapons allegedly en route to Syria; the crackdown on the İpek Media group, affiliated with the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, and prosecutions of  Cevheri Güven and Murat Çapan of weekly news magazine Nokta were also covered in the report as well as a physical attack on Hürriyet reporter Ahmet Hakan.

The Turkey section of the group's World Report also spoke of other ways of repression of media freedom: “Journalists continued to be fired from mainstream press outlets in 2015 for critical reporting, commentary, and tweets. Social media postings critical of the president and politicians by ordinary people also led to criminal defamation charges and convictions. A new trend in 2015 saw courts in several cases order pretrial detention of people for several months for allegedly insulting Erdoğan via social media or during demonstrations.”

Internet access bans, including frequent blocking of Twitter accounts and problematic legislation that now allows blocking of websites without a court order also found their way into the report.
Violations of the right to protest were also mentioned in the HRW report, which stated: “The authorities frequently impose arbitrary bans on public assemblies and violently disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some cases using powers conferred by a new domestic security law passed in March. For the first time ever, the Istanbul governor’s office banned the annual Istanbul Gay Pride march in June 2015, citing vague concerns about counter-demonstrations. Police dispersed groups who had assembled peacefully using tear gas and water cannons. “

Judicial Independence and women's rights

Deep-seated problems in the Turkish justice system, according to the report, include “threats to judicial independence, a pattern of ineffective investigation into abuses by security forces and other state actors, excessively long proceedings, and politically motivated prosecutions.”

The situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey is another source of concern. HRW said: “While Turkey has been generous in hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, the government only grants Syrians temporary protection rather than refugee status, while other nationalities of asylum seekers do not receive that.”

The epidemic of violence against women continued to be a serious part of rights violations in  Turkey in 2015. The HRW report stated: “Despite Turkey’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, violence against women remains a significant concern in Turkey.”

The full text of the group's report can be found here.

Tags: human rights watch , world report , turkey , kurdish , media


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