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.