Amnesty’s Annual Report 2015: “Marked Deterioration” of Human Rights in Turkey

In a few short pages, Amnesty International’s 2015 Annual Report detailed a rapidly deteriorating human rights environment in Turkey, particularly after the 2015 parliamentary elections and the outbreak of violence between the Turkish government and Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in July.

The report is too rich for me to adequately cover in one blog post, so I will address sections of the report over the next few days.  Today, I will suffice only with a general overview of the contents.


Riot police break the main entrance of the İpek Media Group headquarters in İstanbul during a raid in November. (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

The report underlines a breakdown on virtually all fronts in Turkey:

The media faced unprecedented pressure from the government; free expression online and offline suffered significantly. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be violated. Cases of excessive use of force by police and ill-treatment in detention increased. Impunity for human rights abuses persisted. The independence of the judiciary was further eroded. Separate suicide bombings attributed to the armed group Islamic State (IS) targeting left-wing and pro-Kurdish activists and demonstrators killed 139 people. An estimated 2.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers were accommodated in Turkey but individuals increasingly faced arbitrary detention and deportation as the government  negotiated a migration deal with the EU.

Turkey witnessed two general elections this year.  The first, in June, handed the ruling AKP its first major electoral defeat since coming to power in 2002.  These results were overturned in a second parliamentary in November, which returned the AKP to power. Despite these shifts, however, the government’s control over the apparatus of state and the politicization of key state institutions, especially the courts, continued apace:


Amnesty’s Turkey Researcher, Andrew Gardner

Politically motivated appointments and transfers of judges and prosecutors continued throughout the year, wreaking havoc on a judiciary already lacking independence and impartiality. Criminal Courts of Peace – with jurisdiction over the conduct of criminal investigations, such as pre-charge detention and pre-trial detention decisions, seizure of property and appeals against these decisions – came under increasing government control.

The effects of this can be seen in the prosecution of perceived political enemies. “Mass prosecutions under vague and broad anti-terrorism laws continued.”  While the officers who had been prosecuted in the “Sledgehammer” coup plot were acquitted after a retrial.  Thousands were swept up under Turkey’s vague anti-terror statutes.

Waves of detentions took place after the eruption of violence between the PKK and state forces in July. By late August it was estimated that more than 2,000 people had been detained for alleged links to the PKK, while over 260 were remanded in pre-trial detention. Prosecutions were commenced of individuals accused of membership of the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization”, including US based cleric and former AK Party ally Fethullah Gülen.

Riot police fire tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the curfew in Sur district, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey

Riot police fire tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the curfew in Sur district, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, December 14, 2015. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

The peace process which had limped along since 2013, “disintegrated” in July:

State forces launched attacks on PKK bases in Turkey and northern Iraq, while the PKK launched deadly attacks on police and army targets. Armed clashes between the
youth wing of the PKK (YDG-H) and the police and army in urban centres took a particularly heavy toll on the lives of ordinary residents. The mass deployment of security forces to the southeastern provinces in mid-December resulted in an intensification of clashes and, according to local lawyers and activists, the killings of scores of unarmed residents. The Minister of the Interior stated that over 3,000 “terrorists” had been killed since the end of the ceasefire.

Nationalist mobs staged a number of attacks, mostly against Kurds and the Kurdish-rooted, left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The Ministry of the Interior reported on the deaths of two members of the public, injuries to 51, and damage to 69 political party buildings and 30 homes and businesses. The HDP reported that over 400 attacks had taken place, including 126 attacks on their offices.

It was, in other words, a grim year.  In the next few days, I will run through each key section of the report.  Tomorrow: Freedom of Expression

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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