Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president. A unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. Binali Yildirim succeeded Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister in May.
Civilians at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. On July 15, elements of the military staged an unsuccessful coup attempt that killed more than 240 citizens and injured more than 2,100. The government asserted that cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters masterminded the coup attempt and engaged in a pattern of subversion of the judiciary and state institutions.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and groups linked to it declared autonomy in some cities in the Southeast and undertook attacks on security forces, sparking government responses. Clashes resulted in the death of more than 600 security forces, at least 200 civilians, and an unknown number of PKK terrorists. The violent conflict displaced an estimated 300,000 persons, many of whom remained displaced at year’s end. The PKK, its subgroups, and Da’esh also conducted terror attacks throughout the country, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties.
The most significant human rights problems during the year were:
Inconsistent access to due process: Following the July 15 coup attempt, the government on July 20 declared a three-month state of emergency, which was renewed in October, that allowed suspension of some due process protections for those accused of ties to terrorist groups. The government ascribed responsibility for the attempt to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which it defined as a terrorist organization. Courts imprisoned tens of thousands of persons accused of supporting the coup or terrorist groups, in many cases with little clarity on the charges and evidence against them. Government decrees issued under the state of emergency restricted suspects’ access to legal assistance, allowed suspects to be held without charge for up to a month, and in some cases froze the assets of suspended or fired civil servants or their family members. Human rights groups documented some cases in which family members were held or subjected to restrictions on their freedom of movement in lieu of suspects who remained at large. The government suspended and dismissed tens of thousands of civil servants, who generally had little access to legal recourse or appeal, and closed thousands of businesses, schools, and associations.
Government interference with freedom of expression: The government restricted freedom of expression, media, and the internet, intensifying pressure on the media following the failed coup attempt. Authorities arrested at least 140 journalists, most accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement or connections with the PKK. The government also exerted pressure on media, closing media outlets and publishing associations; conducting raids on media companies; confiscating publications with allegedly objectionable material; instigating criminal investigations of journalists and editors for alleged support of terrorist groups; banning books; instigating gag orders on terrorism-related stories; and blocking internet sites. Self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals. The closure of nearly all Kurdish-language media outlets reduced vulnerable populations’ access to information and alternative viewpoints. The government impeded access by international media and observers to conflict areas, limiting independent reporting about conditions.
Inadequate protection of civilians: In fighting the terrorist PKK, government security forces failed to take sufficient measures to protect civilians. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Southeast were forced to flee their homes and most remained internally displaced at year’s end. Upwards of 200 civilians were killed in the fighting. Human rights groups reported that security forces killed and injured persons who attempted to cross illegally from Syria into Turkey and documented reports of torture and abuse of prisoners following the coup attempt.
Other human rights problems included prison overcrowding compounded by the influx of tens of thousands of new prisoners after the coup attempt. The government fired more than 3,000 members of the judiciary, creating an atmosphere of fear that further limited judicial independence and complicated or delayed court proceedings. Many refugees lacked access to schools, work, and social assistance. Authorities failed to protect women and children adequately, including by failing to prevent early marriage. Minority groups, including Alevis, Christians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) individuals, continued to face threats, discrimination, and violence and reported that the government took insufficient steps to protect them. The worst forms of child labor, especially among the refugee population, persisted. Progovernment media used anti-LGBTI, anti-Armenian, anti-Alevi, and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Impunity was a problem as the government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses. A new law approved in July rendered the prosecution of security officers involved in the fight against terror more difficult.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits violence against women, but human rights organizations claimed the government did not effectively enforce it. The law prohibits sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for rape or actual sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims, who often waited days or weeks to report incidents due to embarrassment or fear of reprisals, hindering effective prosecution of assailants. Government statistics on violence against women were incomplete, and human rights organizations had little confidence that official statistics were comprehensive or captured the magnitude of the problem. Societal acceptance of domestic abuse in some cases contributed to its underreporting.
The law covers all women, regardless of marital status, and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also requires government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.
The law provides for the establishment of prevention-of-violence and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. As of December 2015, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 133 women’s shelters: 101 run by the central government and 32 by local administrations. The shelters had a capacity of at least 2,388. Domestic NGOs also operated a few shelters. An Istanbul-based NGO, Purple Roof, reported that in the first six months of the year, 493 women and children applied for assistance with domestic violence issues.
Regulations call for a state-funded women’s shelter for every 100,000 persons. There were no sanctions for noncompliance. Observers noted an inadequate number of shelters–or no shelters at all–in many cities with populations above 100,000. For example, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted three shelters in Ankara, a city with a population of five million.
The government operated a nationwide domestic-violence hotline, but women’s rights NGOs criticized authorities for changing its focus from violence against women to broader issues, including challenges faced by families, women, children, the disabled, and families of martyrs and veterans. NGOs reported the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for crimes such as assault, wrongful imprisonment, or threats. Despite these measures the number of killings and other forms of violence against women remained high. According to research undertaken by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, 86 percent of women surveyed stated they had been subjected to physical or psychological violence by their partners or family. Approximately 70 percent of women reported they were physically assaulted by partners, family members, or neighbors.
Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported that police rarely enforced them effectively. One women’s advocate charged that, following the July 15 coup attempt, the government’s reassignment, suspension, and firing of police officers jeopardized the safety of some women who had been assigned protection. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families. During a workshop on women’s issues on April 14, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag defined domestic violence as a “family matter and internal issue.” He reportedly stated, “How correct is the state’s interference in disagreements between men and women with its police, military, judiciary, psychiatrists, social workers, and experts? Do they really work saving the family…or are such practices carrying it to an irreversible place? We need to discuss this without the fear of the reactions that may come from the civil society organizations.”
A May 16 report by a parliamentary committee aimed at reducing the incidence of divorce advocated reducing the legal age of marriage (from 18 to 15) and reinstating a law that allowed an adult who had sexual relations with a child between the ages of 15 and 18 to escape criminal charges if the victim agreed to marry him. A draft bill was accordingly approved in an initial reading by the parliament on November 17, but it was withdrawn on November 22 after strong public protests. The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 14th Criminal Chamber, which oversees sexual crimes, reported to parliament in May that approximately 3,000 underage marriages had been registered officially, although he did not specify the timeframe. Although the practice is not currently legal, some NGOs reported that the country’s conservative rural populations still used early marriage as a means to preserve a girl’s “honor” after she has had sex, even in some cases of rape.
The Stop Women Murders Now platform reported at year’s end that 328 women had been murdered during the year. NGO groups maintained this number was probably lower than actual occurrences due to underreporting. The Stop Women Murders Now platform assessed that the most common reasons behind women’s killings were women’s attempting to take charge of decisions relating to their bodies, finances, or social relationships (26 percent of all cases) and women’s decisions to end a marriage or relationship (19 percent). It reported that approximately 34 percent of women’s killings went unsolved.
Courts continued to give reduced sentences to some men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. In one example, a court lessened the penalty given in January to Ibrahim Yilmaz, who stabbed his wife to death in front of their children in Diyarbakır in February 2015. Yilmaz was first sentenced to life imprisonment for “deliberate murder,” but the court lessened his sentence to 24 years after ruling that the crime was committed under “unfair incitement.” Subsequently, the court reduced the sentence to 20 years for the perpetrator’s “respectful stance” during the court hearing.
The Jandarma reported that more than 2,000 personnel were trained on human rights topics, which included training on gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The TNP reported that more than 8,000 personnel received some kind of human rights training through September.
In its July 21 periodic report on the country, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlighted gender-based violence as one of a range of problems persisting in the country.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a practice in Turkey or among the refugee populations present in the country.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: So-called honor killings of women remained a problem. Media generally did not report on honor killings, and the government did not release statistics on the problem during the year. Human rights activists alleged that the practice continued, mostly in conservative families in the rural Southeast or among families of migrants from the Southeast living in large cities.
Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that actual sentences often were reduced due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim. Local political and human rights representatives noted that society largely downplayed the issue of women killed by family members because there was an underlying assumption that some type of “honor” violation was involved, perhaps justifying the killing.
Family members sometimes pressured girls to commit suicide to preserve the family’s reputation. On September 18, a team of academics reported a study of 60 cases of female suicides occurring in Siirt between 2000 and 2013 indicated many cases were likely forced suicides or effectively honor killings.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for two to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws.
On September 12, Abdullah Cakiroglu assaulted a 23-year-old Istanbul resident, Aysegul Terzi, on a public bus, kicking her in the face after shouting at her that her shorts were “inappropriate.” On September 17, police detained Cakiroglu, whose actions were recorded by the bus’s security camera but then released him. Cakiroglu told media he had acted in line with Islamic law. A public outcry led to his arrest on September 19 on charges of “spreading hatred and enmity among people.” Prosecutors requested that he be sentenced to prison for more than nine years.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women’s rights NGOs criticized the government for unofficial restrictions on, or interference in, the distribution of birth control pills. On November 29, Health Minister Recep Akdag, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, said, “Our ministry has no such outdated methods like birth control.”
Discrimination: While women enjoy the same rights as men under the law, societal and official discrimination were widespread.
Women continued to face discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of the employer for several months for any female employee over the age of 18 years old.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2015, the country consistently fell in the report’s ratings over the previous 10 years due to the government’s failure to recognize the role of women outside the family unit and use the law to provide them with effective protection.
Birth Registration: There is universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to pass citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country cannot receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive Turkish citizenship. According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, more than 177,000 babies were born to Syrian mothers in the country since the Syria crisis began in 2011. The government provided documentation of these births, but the citizenship status of these babies was unclear, as their parents could not apply to the Syrian government for birth documentation.
Education: Human rights NGOs expressed concern that the law on compulsory education allows female students to be kept at home and married early. The system, generally referred to as “four+four+four,” divides education into three four-year periods. After the first four years of mandatory elementary education, students can choose to attend general middle school or religious-vocational middle schools, called imam hatip schools. The law also allows parents to homeschool their children starting in the fifth grade. Ministry of National Education statistics from April showed that 194,000 girls who graduated from middle school this year did not continue on to high school. (Based on Ministry of National Education statistics from the previous school year, this figure probably represents approximately one-third of the female student body).
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies) provided conditional cash transfers to support families and children. The ministry reported that these cash transfers incentivized poor families to continue education for their daughters. It did not indicate how many families received the stipend during the year.
The government’s response to the July 15 coup attempt heavily affected children’s education, with more than 39,000 teachers and educators suspended or fired by the end of the September for alleged links to the Gulen movement or PKK. The government used its state of emergency powers to close 1,284 schools on July 27; many additional closures followed over the succeeding months. Approximately 6,000 teachers were reinstated in late November; however, when the 2016-17 school year started in September, children in some school districts were either placed in overcrowded classrooms or unable to attend school. The closures disproportionately affected schools in the Southeast.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and comprehensive social services to provide medical, psychological, and legal assistance were limited. The law provides police and local officials authority to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. It requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.
On July 14, the Constitutional Court annulled a law criminalizing sexual relations with children under 15 years old, ruling that a more flexible law was necessary to give prosecutors and judges the ability to respond to the individual details of cases. The decision was set to take effect in 2017. On November 24, a law was adopted providing new punishment for child sexual abusers. Under the law if the victim is between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, molestation will result in a three-to-eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in an eight-to-15 year sentence, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years in prison. For children younger than 12 years old, molestation will result in a minimum five-year prison sentence, abuse in a minimum 10-year sentence, and rape in a minimum 18-year sentence.
Some aspects of the country’s laws, such as the requirement that sexual crime complaints be filed within six months, reduced their potential utility to victims.
In response to a query from CHP lawmaker Didem Engin, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies stated there were 16,957 child-abuse cases in process during the year as of September. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies actively participated in 2,345 of the cases.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 years old as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. Children as young as 12 years old were at times married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor, rural regions. Some families applied to courts to change their daughters’ birthdate so that they could “legally” marry. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the Southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. In May, Dr. Oguz Polat, an academic at Acibadem University’s Forensic Science Department, reported to parliament that 28 to 35 percent of all marriages in the country were with girls under the age of 18.
On April 19, then minister of family and social policies Sema Ramazanoglu, citing the Turkish Statistics Institute data, announced that since 2010 there were 232,313 girls under the age of 18 years old officially married in the country. Media noted that official marriages only captured a fraction of underage marriages, since many such marriages were concluded as religious marriages only. A May 2015 Constitutional Court decision legalized the right to be religiously married without obtaining a civil marriage. Observers noted that, as a result, official marriage statistics increasingly may not reflect overall numbers of marriages (civil and religious) nationwide.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information provided in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution provides that the state shall take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. There were reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. The penalty for encouraging or facilitating the entry of children into prostitution is four to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, the sentence may be doubled.
The age of consent for sex is 15 years old. The law provides sentences for statutory rape (without use of force) of from two to five years’ imprisonment. The sentence is doubled if the offender is more than five years older than the victim. The Constitutional Court annulled this law in July, effective in 2017 (see Child Abuse).
The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and provides for a prison sentence of six months to two years as well as a fine for violations.
Incest involving children remained a problem, although official statistics were incomplete, and prosecutions remained minimal. The law provides prison sentences of between two and five years for incest.
A global study of the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism conducted by ECPAT International during the year identified Turkey as one of the “major hotspots for the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.”
In March 31 remarks to media, the Lawyers Working for Children network general coordinator, Sahin Antakyalioglu, cited impunity as the main problem in combating sexual exploitation of children in the country and noted that the complexity of legal procedures restricted efforts for children and their families to pursue justice.
Displaced Children: UNHCR estimated that, of the approximately 2.75 million Syrians in the country, 934,000 were school-age children. Of these individuals approximately 110,200 lived in government-run camps, where they had a high rate of access to education (90 percent). Of the other school-age Syrian children in the country living outside of camps, the government and The UN Children’s Fund estimated that only 30 percent were in school during the year. Many worked illegally or begged on the street to help support their families (see section 2.d. and section 7.c.).
It was unclear at year’s end how violence in the Southeast, including internal population displacements, affected children. According to the Diyarbakir-based Gap Municipalities Union, approximately 60 to 70 percent of its estimate of 400,000 IDPs (since August 2015) were women and children.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Jewish residents continued to emigrate due to anti-Semitism. According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, the number of Jews in the country dropped to below 17,000 during the year, from 19,500 in 2005.
Jewish residents continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and increased terrorist threats in the country.
In January vandals spray-painted graffiti on the Istipol Synagogue in Istanbul after a prayer service was held there for the first time in 65 years. The message, “Terrorist Israel, there is Allah,” appeared to link the Jewish community to Israeli policy.
In February social media users accused a Yeni Safak columnist of collusion with Jews and called for his death after he publicly criticized the AKP during a television appearance.
After the March 19 Da’esh suicide bombing attack in Istanbul, Irem Aktas, AKP chairwoman for public relations and media in the city’s Eyup municipality, tweeted, “I wish that the wounded Israeli tourists were all dead.” Media reported that Aktas subsequently resigned from her position.
In May the first Jewish wedding held in more than four decades at the newly renovated Grand Synagogue in Edirne triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic comments on social media. A popular video streaming service that offered a live feed of the wedding, some social media users wrote, “Kill the Jews” and “Such a pity that Hitler didn’t finish the job.”
In August a columnist in the progovernment Yeni Safak newspaper linked July 15 coup plotters with Jews by claiming that the mother of Fethullah Gulen had a Jewish name.
In December progovernment columnist Ersin Ramoglu wrote that Fethullah Gulen “can smell money and power instantly because he is a Jew.” He went on to link Jews to brothels and called them “liars expert at disguise.”
Despite anti-Semitic comments by media and incidents of vandalism against the Jewish community, the government took a number of positive steps during the year. The country has commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) since 2011. In February the country marked the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the Struma off the country’s Black Sea coast, which led to the death of 768 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Istanbul’s governor and Jewish community leaders attended the commemoration. The Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul commended security measures taken by the government in response to reports of specific terror threats against Jewish schools during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution permits positive discrimination favoring persons with disabilities, and the law prohibits discrimination against them in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.
The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The government, nonetheless, continued to make little progress implementing the law, and access in most cities remained extremely limited.
The Disabled and Senior Citizens Directorate General, under the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The State Personnel Presidency reported that during the year there were 5,812 personnel with disabilities newly employed in public institutions, while the Ministry of National Education employed 498 persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 199 social service centers assisting vulnerable individuals, including persons with disabilities. The ministry stated there were 288,489 special education students in schools (prekindergarten through high school). The majority of children with disabilities were “mainstreamed” in public schools. The Ministry of National Education reported there were 1,142 special education centers for students whose disability precluded them from participating in regular public schools.
The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education. The Education Reform Initiative, a domestic NGO, stated that, during the 2014-15 school year, only 2.7 percent of preschool-age children with disabilities had access to education services.
The military did not screen for mental disabilities prior to conscription, resulting in both a lack of data and a lack of services for individuals who may need them, according to the HRJP.
The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Caferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully. The HRJP claimed that the government’s failure to recognize national minorities resulted in a failure to identify specific needs, led to discrimination, and left vulnerable populations unprotected.
Although official figures did not exist, more than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and to speak Kurdish dialects. Kurdish communities were disproportionately affected by PKK-government clashes. Several communities experienced government-imposed curfews, cuts in services such as electricity or water, and disruptions in medical care, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at ridding areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally used in their daily lives, on the condition that schools were subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, while others had separate departments for Kurdish language. The law also allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language. The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services.
Although Kurdish is officially allowed in private education and in public discourse, the government did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. On February 21, the Diyarbakir office of the Ministry of National Education forced the closure of a Kurdish-language primary school operating in the province because public education in languages other than Turkish is not allowed. In October the government used a state-of-emergency decree to close several private Kurdish-language schools, including a school that had been giving parents grade reports in Kurdish since 2014. The closures left some 238 students without a school in the middle of the school year. The schools were reportedly closed for conducting “unauthorized activities.”
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties reported that they faced increased problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association. Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets were closed by government decree after the July 15 coup attempt. On November 11, the Ministry of Interior announced the closure of 370 civil society groups with alleged links to terror groups. Many had alleged links to the PKK and were predominantly located in the Southeast.
Public gatherings on April 24 to commemorate events relating to the Armenian issue and the tragic events of 1915 were peaceful and received police protection where necessary.
On January 19, thousands of persons marched in Istanbul to commemorate the life of Turkish-Armenian journalist and former Agoseditor in chief, Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian, and to call for justice in connection with his murder. Dink was killed in Istanbul in 2007. In 2011 the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court convicted a shooter as well as an organizer in connection with Dink’s death. In 2012 members of the Trabzon police department were convicted of criminal negligence, although their case was remanded in 2013 and, in 2014 joined with a case against public officials in Istanbul and Ankara.
In response to a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that the government’s inadequate investigation of Dink’s killing violated the rights of the Dink family, the government opened several negligence cases against police involved in the investigation. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office extended the investigations to include former gendarmerie officials who had allegedly neglected intelligence reports about plans to murder Dink or allegedly had direct contact with the gunman. In August authorities arrested 14 gendarmerie officials as part of the investigation. Four were also arrested for allegedly being members of the Gulen movement. The case against a number of former police officials, including former chief of the Police Intelligence Bureau, Ramazan Akyurek, continued at year’s end. By December 2015 Istanbul courts had indicted 26 persons for their role in the killing, many of them allegedly affiliated with the Gulen movement.
The HRJP alleged that suicides and suspicious deaths in the military most frequently involved Kurdish individuals.
On April 30, the cabinet approved a national strategy on the social inclusion of Roma. The strategy established goals in the areas of education, employment, housing, health, social services, and assistance. Observers estimated there were more than two million Roma in the country, and the need for improvement in areas covered by the new strategy remained strong. Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and continued housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. The Romani community also continued to face problems with access to education, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in taking advantage of government offers to subsidize rent on new apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. Roma also reported workplace discrimination and asserted their children often were singled out in the classroom, leading to high dropout rates. Early marriage also remained a problem in the Romani community.
In line with the new Romani strategy, the government identified 12 provinces in which to begin pilot projects for social inclusion of Romani citizens. The project was in its initial stages at year’s end.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech rather than to protect minorities. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted that LGBTI definitions were not included in the law but reported that protections for LGBTI individuals are provided under a general “gender” concept in the constitution. KAOS-GL, a domestic NGO focused on LGBTI rights, maintained that due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities withheld social protection from them.
The law does not explicitly discriminate against LGBTI individuals; however, legal references to “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for discrimination by employers and abuse by police.
During the year LGBTI individuals continued to experience discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. LGBTI prostitutes reported that police detained them to extract payoffs. LGBTI advocates accused courts and prosecutors of creating an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in prostitution. Human rights attorneys reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons aggressively. They often did not arrest suspects or hold them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. The “unjustifiable provocation” provision states that punishment “will be reduced if the perpetrator commits a crime under the influence of rage or strong, sudden passion caused by a wrongful act.” Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of those who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal upheld these verdicts based, in part, on the “immoral nature” of the victim.
Violence against LGBTI individuals continued throughout the year, including several murders. The NGO Red Umbrella reported 227 assaults and murders of LGBTI individuals through October 1. In one example, in August the burned and mutilated body of a transgender sex worker and LGBTI activist, Hande Kader, was found in Istanbul’s Sariyer district. There was no report of an arrest in the case as of year’s end.
Prior to “pride week” in June, the country’s LGBTI community reported receiving hate messages and threats from a variety of sources. Istanbul security officials provided police protection for some pride week events. On June 19, police dispersed crowds using tear gas when activists attempted to hold a “trans pride” parade. The Istanbul Governor’s Office banned the LGBTI community’s annual pride parade, which had been planned for June 26, citing security concerns. Police actively prevented those who gathered, nonetheless, for the pride parade, and also prevented an anti-LGBTI group that had gathered the same day to protest parade participants, arresting two of the protesters. The government did not respond to allegations of disproportionate use of force by police against transgender pride activists, police intimidation, or calls by groups for anti-LGBTI violence.
On November 17, an Ankara court found three persons guilty of assaulting transgender activist and sex worker, Kemalita Ordek. The three were sentenced to 17 years, six years, and four and one-half years in prison, respectively, for sexual assault, physical attack, unlawful confinement, threat, insult, and theft. The charges resulted from a July 2015 attack on Ordek, the chair of an NGO dedicated to transgender issues, in his home in Ankara, after which police subjected him to belittlement, threats, and further abuse for several hours.
There were active LGBTI organizations in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Gaziantep, Eskisehir, and Diyarbakir, and unofficial groups in smaller cities and university campuses. Groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups in small cities complained that rectors had denied them permission to organize. LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines. They also reported challenges finding office space due to discrimination from landlords.
LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Human rights organizations complained the media and medical professionals often did not respect the privacy of individuals with HIV/AIDS. Many persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. The Positive Living Association noted that the country lacked laws protecting persons with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing.
Due to pervasive social stigma against HIV/AIDS, many individuals feared that the results of tests for HIV would be used against them and, therefore, avoided testing. Since medical benefits are conditional on employment status, LGBTI persons who were unemployed or unofficially employed due to discriminatory hiring practices had difficulty obtaining treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Armenians, Alevis, and Christians were regularly the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. On August 12, two unidentified assailants wrote racist graffiti on the wall of Uskudar Surp Hac Tibrevank high school in Istanbul, an Armenian school and the school of slain ethnic Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. The school’s walls were scrawled with phrases including, “Torment to Armenians” and “I brought the hate of Kursat.” (Kursat is a Turkic historic figure linked to Turkish nationalism since the 1940s.) The incident received minimal coverage in progovernment media.
On October 18, a member of parliament, Garo Paylan, filed a criminal complaint against President Erdogan concerning his alleged disregard of anti-Armenian chants shouted during a speech in Trabzon on October 15. Paylan directed the complaint to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, claiming that Erdogan violated a law banning “inciting hatred and hostility among peoples and denigration.” At the October 15 speech, the audience allegedly chanted “Armenian bastards cannot discourage us” throughout the speech, while the president and attending ministers and members organizations did not stop them.
Following the July 15 coup attempt, many Alevis reported threats of violence and reported that police prevented attacks in Alevi neighborhoods. On July 17, protesters entered an Alevi neighborhood in Malatya shouting slogans related to the failed coup and denigrating Alevis. On August 18, an armed group fired several shots in front of the Garip Dede Cemevi (house of worship) in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece suburb. There were no reported casualties; as of year’s end, police had not identified the attackers.
After the failed coup, progovernment news commentators published false stories alleging links between the vilified Fethullah Gulen movement and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Christian groups, and the Jewish community. Government officials did not dispute the allegations.