Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president. A unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. The most recent national parliamentary elections took place in 2015; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and a campaign environment that restricted candidates’ ability to campaign freely. The most recent presidential election took place in 2014; OSCE observers concluded that candidates were generally able to campaign freely but noted an uneven campaign playing field that benefited then prime minister Erdogan, among other issues. In the April constitutional referendum, voters narrowly approved significant amendments to the country’s constitution intended to eventually transition the country from a parliamentary system to a presidential system following the next joint parliamentary/presidential election, projected to take place in 2019.
Civilian leaders maintained effective control over security forces and dismissed thousands of additional police and military personnel on terrorism-related grounds using state of emergency decrees as part of the government’s response to the failed coup attempt of July 2016.
The country experienced significant political challenges during the year. The continuing state of emergency–imposed following the July 2016 coup attempt, renewed once in 2016 and an additional four times during the year–had far-reaching effects on the country’s society and institutions, restricting the exercise of many fundamental freedoms. By year’s end authorities had dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 civil servants from their jobs, arrested or imprisoned more than 50,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on terrorism-related grounds since the coup attempt, primarily for alleged ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, whom the government accused of masterminding the coup attempt.
The most significant human rights issues included alleged torture of detainees in official custody; allegations of forced disappearance; arbitrary arrest and detention under the state of emergency of tens of thousands, including members of parliament and two Turkish-national employees of the U.S. Mission to Turkey, for alleged ties to terrorist groups or peaceful legitimate speech; executive interference with independence of the judiciary, affecting the right to a fair trial and due process; political prisoners, including numerous elected officials; severe restriction of freedoms of expression and media, including imprisonment of scores of journalists, closing media outlets, and criminalization of criticism of government policies or officials; blocking websites and content; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly and association; interference with freedom of movement; and incidents of violence against LGBTI persons and other minorities.
The government continued to take limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity for such abuses was a problem.
Clashes between security forces and the PKK terrorist organization and its affiliates continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level from 2016, and resulted in the injury or deaths of security forces, PKK terrorists, and an unknown number of civilians. The government declined to provide information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for any wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counter-PKK security operations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were credible allegations that the government contributed to civilian deaths in connection with violent clashes between government security forces and the terrorist PKK organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with 2016 (see section 1.g.). In September human rights groups and Republican People’s Party (CHP) member of parliament Sezgin Tanrikulu claimed the government killed a civilian named Mehmet Temel and injured three others in a mountainous area of Hakkari Province during an armed drone strike on August 31. The government disputed the account, claiming the four were PKK terrorists.
According to the International Crisis Group in Turkey, in the first 11 months of the year, 35 civilians, 164 security force members, and 504 PKK militants were killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes. Human rights groups stated the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK in the southeast.
The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians. On November 2, for instance, six soldiers and two village guards were killed by PKK terrorists in Hakkari’s Semdinli District. Turks across the political spectrum condemned the PKK in the wake of the August 11 death of 15-year-old Eren Bulbul, who was killed during a skirmish between the Jandarma (a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Interior) and the PKK in the rural town of Macka in the mountains of Trabzon Province. Bulbul, a local resident, was acting as a spotter for forces tracking PKK terrorists when he was killed.
During the year the government tightened control of its border with Syria, primarily to restrict the entry of ISIS terrorists moving through the country potentially to commit terrorist acts in Turkey and beyond. The impact, in some cases, restricted humanitarian access to the country for persons fleeing the conflict in Syria. The country allowed access only to those needing immediate medical assistance. Some Syrians attempting to cross the border were injured or killed during border crossings (see section 2.d.).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that from the start of the conflict in March 2011 to July 30, Turkish forces killed at least 292 Syrians (including 55 children and 29 women) on the Syria-Turkey border. It was unclear whether the government investigated these cases.
Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, although overall numbers varied. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reported at least 10 deaths in prison, including those of three children. The Human Rights Association (HRA) reported 17 deaths in prison. The Ministry of Justice, responding to questions from CHP member of parliament Baris Yardakas, reported that 66 prisoners committed suicide in 2016, 40 of them after the July 2016 attempted coup. For example, on August 3, Davut Turkel, a 59-year-old laborer and member of the AKCA-DER labor union, died in police custody. On July 13, police raided his home and detained him along with 90 others, reportedly as part of a Gulen-related investigation into the 2016 attempted coup. Following 12 days in detention, he was injured prior to appearing before a judge, transferred to a hospital, and died nine days later after falling into a coma. Police claimed he fell down on the courthouse steps and injured his head. A hospital autopsy confirmed the cause of death was a brain hemorrhage. Critics asserted the death was suspicious, in view of the fact that Turkel was at the courthouse with a two-person police escort when he sustained his injuries.
Citizens were also affected by terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS. On January 1, an attack on the popular Reina nightclub in Istanbul left 39 persons dead and dozens injured. Upon capture, the perpetrator, a citizen of Uzbekistan, reportedly told law enforcement officers that he had been instructed by ISIS to carry out the attack. On August 13, an ISIS suspect in custody for reportedly planning a suicide attack stabbed and killed a police officer inside Istanbul’s main police headquarters.
There were some unconfirmed reports of disappearances during the year, some of which human rights groups alleged were politically motivated. Opposition politicians and respected human rights groups claimed at least 11 abductions or disappearances of individuals with alleged Gulen ties or who opposed the government occurred. For example, in June the 12-year-old son of agricultural engineer Cemil Kocak witnessed the disappearance of his father in Ankara after their vehicle was hit by another car. When Kocak exited the car to assess the damage, three persons forced him into another car and drove away. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), there were “credible grounds” to believe Kocak and at least three other men had been forcibly disappeared by government agents.
Similarly in April Onder Asan disappeared in Ankara. Six weeks later, his family located him in an Ankara police station. Asan alleged that before being transferred to official custody, he was interrogated and tortured by security forces. Most of the victims identified by HRW had been dismissed from government jobs under the state of emergency. Government officials disputed HRW’s claims but declined to provide information on its investigative efforts, if any.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but there were reports that some government forces employed these tactics. Human rights groups alleged that torture and mistreatment in police custody increased, despite the presence of closed-circuit cameras installed by the government in 2012, and that police abused detainees outside police station premises. The HRA reported that during the first 11 months of the year, it received 423 complaints related to abuse while in custody. It also reported intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common and that victims hesitated to report abuse due to fear of reprisal. Separately, the HRFT reported that in the first 11 months of the year, it received 570 complaints, including 328 allegations of torture and inhuman treatment by government authorities. The government declined to provide information on whether it undertook investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prison or detention centers during the year.
In its World Report 2017, HRW concluded: “The weakening of safeguards against abuse in detention under the state of emergency was accompanied by increased reports of torture and mistreatment in police detention, such as beating and stripping detainees, use of prolonged stress positions, and threats of rape as well as threats to lawyers and interference with medical examinations. While many allegations arose in relation to members of the military and police detained in connection with the coup attempt, they were not the only groups who reported mistreatment after the coup attempt, and Kurdish detainees in the southeast had reported similar abuses during the prior year.”
Credible reports suggested that some doctors would not sign their names to medical reports alleging torture due to the fear of reprisal, meaning victims were often unable to get medical documentation that would help prove their claims. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) alleged that police tortured dozens of civilians in Hakkari Province in August following the death of a special forces officer in counter-PKK operations. Following release from detention, 10 detainees filed claims of torture against police at the local prosecutor’s office. Police dismissed the torture claims as terrorist propaganda. Authorities opened an investigation that continued as of year’s end.
Two journalists detained in August 2016 in connection with the closure of Ozgur Gundem, reported being beaten and threatened with rape by police officers. In July the Istanbul prosecutor’s office decided not to prosecute due to lack of evidence, dropping the charges and the investigation. A report by the HRFT profiled the suspicious death of Hamza Kacmaz, a prisoner in Antalya who allegedly committed suicide on August 19 by hanging himself in his prison cell. The autopsy report showed no signs of strangulation and noted signs of handcuffing. Other inmates testified that Kacmaz sustained beatings and torture prior to his death.
The HRA reported receiving a credible complaint from a former police officer who claimed that he and others accused of ties to the Gulen movement were tortured while in police custody in April. The former officer reported that groups of detained police officers were kept in small cells and that when most of the police station staff had departed for the evening, on-duty police took these detainees one-by-one into an interrogation room, stripped them, hooded them with plastic bags, and threatened them with sexual assault. The HRA did not specify the location of these reported acts or the name of the victim, who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.
A March report issued by the HDP catalogued several similar allegations of prisoner mistreatment, noting the case of Ergin Aktas in Izmir Menemen Prison, who lacked both his arms and claimed that he received insufficient physical assistance in prison. The HDP reported several alleged suicides among accused Gulenists imprisoned since the coup attempt as well as the suicides of four female inmates in the southeast by self-immolation, allegedly in response to torture.
In a case highlighted by HRW, at a February 16 hearing of 64 alleged Gulen members, seven defendants testified they were tortured by police and forced to sign false statements. One of the defendants, former preschool head Hasan Kobalay, testified that in November 2016, while at the counterterrorism branch of the Kirikkale police station, he was stripped, blindfolded, gagged, handcuffed, and sprayed with cold water on his genitals. In an October 31 statement, the Ministry of Justice responded that a government investigation found the allegations to be “groundless” and consequently decided not to pursue prosecution of the alleged perpetrators.
The government asserts a “zero tolerance” policy for torture. HRW maintained that the organization was “not aware of any serious measures that have been taken to investigate credible allegations of torture.” According to 2016 Ministry of Justice statistics, the government opened 42 criminal cases related to alleged torture. The government declined to provide data on its investigations into alleged torture.
According to media reports, some military conscripts endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in suicide.
On July 30, the army general staff released a statement regarding the detention of a group of male Syrian refugees subjected to degrading treatment while in custody, including being forced to wear belly-dancing costumes. The general staff confirmed that it had started administrative and judicial proceedings against the four soldiers involved, including the arrest of three soldiers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison facilities in general met international standards for physical conditions in many respects, with certain exceptions. Overcrowding (particularly following the mass detentions after the 2016 coup attempt) and lack of access to adequate health care remained problems.
Physical Conditions: As of June 15, the Ministry of Justice indicated a total prison inmate population of 224,878 in government-operated detention facilities with a capacity of 202,676 inmates. At least 22,000 arrestees or convicts were in prisons and had to sleep on the floor or in rotation.
The government reported it housed children in separate prison facilities, where available; otherwise, children were held in separate sections within separate male and female adult prisons. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities with convicted prisoners.
In September the Ministry of Justice, responding to an inquiry by Gamze Akkus Ilgezdi, a CHP Istanbul lawmaker and parliamentary Human Rights Commission member, announced that 69,301 formally registered students were imprisoned as of the end of 2016, the highest number of jailed students in the country’s history. As of August 1, the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses stated that of the 2,767 children between the ages of 12 and 18 in prison, 197 were in prison on terror-related charges.
The government declined to provide data on inmate deaths from natural causes, suicides, and deaths from other causes.
Human rights organizations asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, and lighting. For example, on July 5, 61-year-old Kamil Ungut died while in prison in Elbistan in Kahramanmaras Province; press reports attributed his death to cramped conditions and high temperatures.
Although authorities asserted that doctors were assigned to each prison, according to Ministry of Justice statistics made public by CHP member of parliament Ali Haydar Hakverdi, as of March 2016, only 11 doctors were serving in prisons, equating to one doctor for every 33 prisons and 16,830 inmates. Human rights associations expressed serious concern regarding the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. The HRA reported that in the first 10 months of the year, 1,037 inmates were sick, including 361 in critical condition. The number of inmates released for health reasons during the year was unavailable.
In one case, prison authorities did not provide adequate medical care for inmate and local Kurdish Hakkari politician Sibel Capraz, charged with terror-related crimes and incitement, who used a colostomy bag. Capraz’s family and lawyers claimed she had not received medical care in the prison or at a hospital and that she had to rely on her fellow ward inmates for informal and unsanitary medical care. In February after widespread media coverage, authorities transferred Capraz to a hospital and put her under house arrest.
Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-ranging counterterrorism law, to keep prisoners whom they deem dangerous to public security in pretrial detention, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.
Administration: At times authorities investigated credible allegations of abuse and inhumane or degrading conditions, but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or take action to hold perpetrators accountable. The government declined to provide data on investigations (both criminal and administrative) of alleged prison violence or mistreatment.
The government initially established the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI) and the Ombudsman Institution as monitoring bodies for prisons as well as for broader human rights and personnel issues. Parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Ombudsman Institution had authorization to visit and observe prisons, including military prisons, without advance permission; while they did so, the frequency of such visits remained unclear.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed prison visits by some international bodies. In May a delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited the country and interviewed a large number of detainees in various sites. As of year’s end, the government had not approved the public release of the CPT report and findings.
Some members of parliament were also able to conduct prison visits. In May CHP member of parliament Safak Pavey, after having visited Silivri, Sincan, Sakarya, and Bakirkoy Prisons on multiple occasions since July 2016, alleged widespread mistreatment, insult, and torture of inmates by prison authorities. “From what I have seen, I am of the belief that there has not been any period in Turkey when heavier human rights violations of inmates and convicts took place,” she stated.
The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The HRFT noted that at least in one case of alleged inhuman treatment, treatment of the detainee improved following a complaint to government authorities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, but numerous credible reports indicated the government did not always observe these requirements. The Ministry of Justice reported that, as of July 15, 169,013 persons had been subjected to some type of “criminal procedure” (e.g., questioning, investigation, detention, arrest, judicial control, or a ban on travel) under the state of emergency. Of these, a total of 55,665 were arrested on terror-related grounds following the July 2016 coup attempt, according to official figures. Many were reportedly detained for alleged ties to the Gulen movement or the PKK, often with little due process or access to the evidence underlying the accusations against them (see section 2.a.).
The government alleged that individuals who used the messaging application ByLock were members of the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO), a term the government applied to the Gulen movement, which it holds responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. On September 26, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that use of ByLock constituted prima facie evidence of membership in FETO. Based on an examination of the history of the ByLock application, including its alleged modification by alleged Gulen-linked staff working in an intelligence department of the National Police, the Appellate Court found that evidence of the use of ByLock was sufficient to sustain the convictions of two former judges who had filed appeals. By contrast in late December the Ankara prosecutor’s office paved the way for the release of approximately 1,000 detainee by ruling that they had been detained solely due to the presence of ByLock on their mobile phones, which it assessed had been unwittingly placed on their devices by a separate application.
Under the state of emergency, detainees could be held without charge for up to 14 days. There were numerous accounts of persons, including foreign citizens, waiting beyond 14 days to be formally charged. Bar associations reported that detainees occasionally had difficulty gaining immediate access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially those not provided by the state–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals suspected of ties to the 2016 coup attempt. The HRA reported that in terrorism-related cases, authorities often did not inform defense attorneys of the details of detentions within the first 24 hours, as stipulated by law. It also reported that attorneys’ access to the case files for their clients was limited for weeks or months pending preparations of indictments, hampering their ability to defend their clients.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in large urban areas. The Jandarma, a paramilitary force, is responsible for rural areas and specific border sectors where smuggling is common, although the military has overall responsibility for border control and overall external security. The Jandarma supervised the “security guards” (formerly known as “village guards”); a civilian militia historically involved in human rights abuses that provide additional local security in the southeast, largely in response to the terrorist threat from the PKK. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) reports to the presidency and is responsible for collecting intelligence on existing and potential threats.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, the Jandarma, the military, and the National Intelligence Organization, but government mechanisms to investigate and punish alleged abuse and corruption by state security officials remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem. MIT members have had legal immunity from prosecution since 2014. A 2016 law granted other security officials involved in fighting terror retroactive immunity from prosecution and made it harder to investigate human rights abuses by requiring permission from both military and civilian leadership prior to pursuing prosecution. On August 24, a decree issued under the state of emergency required the president’s permission before the head of MIT could come under investigation or testify before parliament.
The Ombudsman Institution, the NHREI, prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts, and parliament’s HRC were authorized to investigate reports of security force killings, torture, or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses. Civil courts, however, remained the main recourse to prevent impunity. National and international human rights organizations reported credible evidence of torture and inhumane treatment, asserting that the government took insufficient action against abusive practices, specifically of detainees in custody. The government declined to provide information on its efforts to address abuse through disciplinary action and training.
Officials employed the tactic of countersuing individuals who alleged abuse. On August 10, in Izmir two women, 19-year-old Derya Kılıc and 22-year-old Seray Gurer, asked two police officers for help, claiming they were groped by two unidentified men on motorbikes. Security footage showed one of police officer starting to beat Kilic. According to Kilic’s formal complaint, the officer who hit her claimed the women were “dressed inappropriately.” A prosecutor in Izmir sought a prison sentence up to three and one-half years for the officer. The officer in the meantime filed criminal complaints against the women, alleging they had attacked him. The outcome of case and count remained unclear as of year’s end.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires warrants issued by a prosecutor for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. Under ordinary circumstances, individuals may be detained for up to 24 hours, after which a prosecutor may authorize extending the period to 48 hours, excluding transportation time, before arraigning them with a prosecutor’s warrant before a judge. A chief prosecutor may apply to extend this period of custody for up to four days before arraignment under certain circumstances, including cases with multiple suspects and charges. Formal arrest is a later step, separate from detention, and means a suspect is to be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. Authorities must notify suspects of the charges against them within 24 hours, although human rights activists claimed that authorities did not always inform suspects of the basis of a given charge. For crimes that carry sentences for conviction of fewer than three years’ imprisonment, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge may either release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or hold the defendant in custody (arrest) prior to trial if there are specific facts indicating that the suspect may flee, attempt to destroy evidence, or attempt to pressure or tamper with witnesses or victims. Judges often kept suspects in detention without articulating a clear justification for doing so.
While the law generally provides detainees the right to immediate access to an attorney at any time, laws enacted in 2015 allow prosecutors to deny such access for up to 24 hours. In criminal cases the law also requires that the government provide indigent detainees with a public attorney if they request one. In cases where the potential prison sentence for conviction is more than five years’ imprisonment or where the defendant is a child or a person with disabilities, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases, authorities provided an attorney where a defendant could not afford one. Judges also may limit a lawyer’s access to the investigation file, should the judge decide the case is confidential (see Trial Procedures below). Defense lawyers’ access to their clients’ court files for a specific catalogue of crimes (including crimes against state security, organized crime, and sexual assault against children) may be restricted until the client is indicted.
The continuing state of emergency provided the government with expanded authorities to detain individuals for up to 30 days without charge and deny access to counsel for up to five days. A January 23 decree decreased the maximum detention period to 14 days. Authorities could hold suspects without access to counsel for up to 24 hours. An October 2016 state of emergency decree re-established that detainees could be held for 24 hours without access to legal counsel; it remained in place at year’s end. Decrees give prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege and to observe and record conversations between accused persons and their legal counsel. The Human Rights Joint Platform reported that the renewed 24-hour attorney access restriction was arbitrarily implemented.
Private attorneys and human rights monitors reported irregular implementation of laws protecting the right to a fair trial, particularly with respect to attorney access. On February 10, the Sanliurfa Bar Association stated that police intimidated lawyers who were chosen by the detainee or were assigned by the bar association, which it stated compromised their ability to effectively represent their clients. Multiple bar associations claimed their lawyers were hesitant to take cases, particularly those of suspects accused of PKK or Gulen ties, because of fear of government reprisal, including prosecution, against them. Government intimidation of defense lawyers also at times involved non-terror-related cases. In October police detained six lawyers working on a case that involved 301 victims of the 2014 Soma mining disaster for alleged membership in terrorist organizations. Critics claimed the detentions were spurious and instead aimed at silencing attorneys working on a politically sensitive case. According to the Arrested Lawyers Initiative (which tracks legal news in the country), more than 570 lawyers have been arrested in the country since the attempted coup and another 1,400 were under prosecution as of December 22. Prior to the 2016 coup attempt, human rights groups alleged that authorities frequently denied detainees access to an attorney in terrorism-related cases until security forces had interrogated their clients. The HRA noted anecdotal improvements in this area during the year.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions. Human rights groups alleged that in areas under curfew or in “special security zones,” security forces detained citizens without official record, leaving detainees at greater risk of arbitrary abuse. For example, on November 12, Sanliurfa counterterrorism police detained Mahmut Ongor, the brother of the HRA’s Adana branch chairman, Ilhan Ongor. The family alleged it was not notified of his detention for three days and that Ongor was tortured during the first several days of his 11-day detention.
Pretrial Detention: An August 25 state of emergency decree increased from five to seven years the maximum time that a detainee could be held pending trial, including for crimes against the security of the state, national defense, constitutional order, state secrets and espionage, organized crime, and terrorism-related offenses. The length of pretrial detention generally did not exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crimes. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period remained two years with the possibility of three one-year extensions, for a total of five years.
The trial system does not provide for a speedy trial, and hearings in a case were often months apart. In the case of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, 19 journalists and employees–including editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, multiple columnists, and a cartoonist–were first detained in October 2016 on terrorism-related grounds widely viewed as politically motivated. Most remained in pretrial detention until July 24, when the hearings for five of the defendants took place, followed by the hearings for the sixth and seventh in September. In October and December, hearings for the remaining detainees took place. At year’s end the group’s prosecution continued, and four individuals remained in detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although the state of emergency imposed limits on their ability to do so. The country’s judicial process allows a system of lateral appeals to Criminal Courts of Peace that substitutes appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the approach, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings by horizontally equal courts.
In cases of alleged human rights violations, detainees have the right to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress while their criminal case is proceeding. Nevertheless, a backlog of cases at the Constitutional Court slowed proceedings, preventing expeditious redress.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that detention center conditions varied and were often challenging due to limited physical capacity and increased referrals. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged that authorities prevented migrants placed in detention and return centers from communicating with the outside world, including their family members and lawyers, creating a situation of impunity and the potential for refoulement.
Amnesty: Article 104 of the constitution grants the president the right to grant amnesty on the grounds of chronic illness, disability, or old age, from all or part of the sentences imposed. The provision has rarely been used.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but critics alleged the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch. Constitutional amendments narrowly approved by voters in an April referendum further diminished judicial independence. Among other powers, the amendments provided the president authority to appoint half of the country’s most senior judges and gave parliament the authority to appoint the other half. Critics expressed concern that if the president and the majority party in parliament happened to be from the same party, a single party could, in practice, appoint all the judges to the highest courts. The amendments also renamed, restructured, and reshuffled the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), allowing the president and ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) to appoint another slate of members to the top judicial body that assigns judges and prosecutors to the country’s courts nationwide, a role that critics asserted became especially problematic after the removal of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors following the July 2016 coup attempt.
Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the careers of judges and prosecutors are controlled through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands made by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK, formerly the HSYK). Broad leeway granted to prosecutors and judges challenges the requirement to remain impartial, and judges’ inclination to give precedence to the state’s interests contributed to inconsistent application of criminal laws. Critics expressed concern regarding application procedures for prosecutors and judges described as highly subjective, which they warned opened the door to political litmus tests in the hiring process.
The judiciary faced a number of challenges that sharply limited judicial independence, including the suspension, detention, or firing of judicial staff accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement. Observers alleged the government also interfered with the judicial process in certain cases, including those related to Gulenist trials. On April 3, the HSK suspended three judges who had ordered the release of 21 of 29 journalists accused of ties to Gulen and overturned the release order. Observers noted the reversal came after a progovernment social media campaign decried the decision of the judges. Some observers interpreted the move as a warning to judges who took independent decisions not in line with the government’s expectations.
The government also targeted some defense attorneys representing a number of high-profile clients. On September 12, police raided the Istanbul and Ankara offices of lawyers representing two detained educators on hunger strike, Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, whose cases had triggered protests and attracted significant national and international media attention. The raid and seizure of documents came two days before their clients’ scheduled court hearings in Ankara. On September 15, Ankara police detained Celal Celik, an attorney for the main CHP opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in connection with an investigation into the Gulen movement. Celik, a former Supreme Court judge, had been an outspoken critic of Gulen and was detained in part due to his cancellation of a Digiturk cable subscription. Cancellation of Digiturk cable subscriptions after a certain date was one of the criteria authorities used to justify dismissals and arrests, arguing that Gulen had ordered his supporters to cancel the service after it dropped several Gulen-linked channels from its cable offerings. Critics viewed Celik’s detention as an attempt to pressure or intimidate Kilicdaroglu. On April 9, prosecutors indicted Levent Piskin, a defense lawyer for imprisoned HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, on terrorism-related charges. Evidence against him included his membership in the HDP Istanbul WhatsApp group. The case continued at year’s end, with Piskin free under judicial supervision.
The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system. The country’s system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors created close connections between the two groups. Prosecutors and judges studied together at the country’s Justice Academy before being assigned to their first official posts by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors. After appointment, they often lodged together, shared the same office space, worked in the same courtroom for many years, and even exchanged positions during their careers. Observers, including the European Commission, claimed this process led to the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases. Justice officials asserted the system was designed to avoid these problems through regular reassignment of judges and prosecutors to different locations by the HSK. Human rights and bar associations noted that defense attorneys generally underwent less rigorous training than their prosecutorial counterparts and were not required to pass an examination to demonstrate a minimum level of expertise.
The constitutional changes approved in the April referendum abolished the country’s military courts, reserving military justice for disciplinary cases only.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, although bar associations and rights groups asserted that increasing executive interference with the judiciary and actions taken by the government through state of emergency provisions jeopardized this right.
As written the law provides defendants a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trial, although in a number of high-profile cases, defendants increasingly appeared via video link from prison, rather than in person. Judges may restrict lawyers’ access to defendants’ files during the prosecution phase.
A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Courtroom proceedings were generally public except for cases involving minors as defendants. The state increasingly used a clause allowing closed courtrooms for hearings and trials related to security matters, such as those related to “crimes against the state.” Court files, which contain indictments, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, were closed except to the parties to a case, making it difficult to obtain information on the progress or results of the case. In some politically sensitive cases, judges cleared courtrooms and restricted access to Turkish lawyers only, limiting the ability of domestic or international groups to observe some trials.
Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult an attorney in a timely manner. Observers noted that especially in high-profile cases, courts failed to provide the defendants the right to exercise such rights. For example, Nuriye Gulmen, an academic who began a hunger strike after being dismissed from her job by a state of emergency decree following the 2016 coup attempt, was not brought to the courtroom for some of her hearings. Similarly, authorities did not transfer imprisoned pro-Kurdish HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas to court for his December 7 hearing, claiming a need to maintain public order.
Defendants have the right to legal representation in criminal cases and, if indigent, to have representation provided at public expense. Defendants or their attorneys could question witnesses for the prosecution, although questions must usually be presented to the judges, who are expected to ask the questions on behalf of counsel. Defendants or their attorneys could, within limits, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Secret witnesses were frequently used, particularly in cases related to national security. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for free interpretation to all parties in a case when needed. Human rights groups alleged free interpretation was not always provided, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.
It sometimes took years before trials began, and appeals could take years to reach conclusion.
Observers noted the government often failed to establish evidence to sustain indictments and convictions in cases related to Gulen or supporting terrorism, highlighting growing concerns regarding respect for due process and adherence to credible evidentiary thresholds. In numerous instances, use of the smartphone application ByLock was cited as the only evidence of alleged support for or membership in a terrorist organization. For example, on August 10, Birgun newspaper editor Burak Ekici and 34 other journalists were detained for membership in the Gulenist movement, which the government accused of undertaking the July 2016 attempted coup. The evidence cited for their detention was use of the encrypted messaging application ByLock, which the government contended was only used by Gulenists. In one of many such cases nationwide, in July more than 70 academics faced arrest warrants for their use of ByLock. On December 5, the Ministry of Interior stated it had detected or identified more than 102,000 individual ByLock users.
In October 2016 authorities arrested Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen and Christian pastor, on charges of membership in an armed terrorist group, espionage, and attempts to overthrow the state. Evidence underlying the prosecutor’s accusations against him, widely believed to be political in nature, remained elusive. Brunson’s pretrial detention continued at year’s end.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The number of political prisoners was not a matter of public record and remained a subject of debate at year’s end. In November media reported that, according to the Ministry of Justice, 62,669 prison inmates were charged with terrorism-related crimes. An exact breakdown of numbers of alleged members of the PKK, ISIS, and the Gulen movement was not available at year’s end. In July the Ministry of Justice reported the arrest of 50,510 individuals in connection with the July 2016 attempted coup. Some observers considered many of these individuals political prisoners, a charge sharply disputed by the government.
Prosecutors used a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security, and in some cases used what appeared to be questionable evidence to file criminal charges against a broad range of individuals, including journalists, opposition politicians (primarily of the pro-Kurdish HDP), activists, and others critical of the government. At year’s end, nine HDP parliamentarians, including the HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas–head of the second-largest opposition party in parliament–remained imprisoned, as did one CHP lawmaker. On June 14, a court sentenced CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoglu–convicted of espionage for purportedly giving an opposition newspaper information allegedly showing the country’s intelligence agency sending weapons into Syria–to 25 years’ imprisonment. The government also removed from office numerous local elected opposition politicians, primarily in Kurdish-majority areas, on national security grounds, subsequently detaining or prosecuting some. As of December 12, the Prime Ministry reported the government had removed a total of 106 elected mayors from office. These included 93 pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) or HDP mayors, nine AKP mayors, three National Movement party (MHP) mayors, and one CHP mayor. A majority were removed, detained or arrested for allegedly supporting PKK terrorism. The government installed trustees in more than 90 HDP or DBP municipalities.
Authorities used counterterrorism laws broadly against many human rights activists, media outlets, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged members of the Gulen movement, among others. Human rights groups alleged that many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to silence critical voices or weaken political opposition to the ruling AKP, particularly the pro-Kurdish HDP or its sister party, the DBP. Authorities used both the antiterror laws and increased powers under the state of emergency to detain individuals and seize assets, including those of media companies, charities, businesses, pro-Kurdish groups accused of supporting the PKK, and individuals alleged to be associated with the Gulen movement. The government did not consider those in custody for alleged PKK or Gulen ties to be political prisoners and did not permit access to them by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Credible media reports claimed that some persons jailed on terrorism-related charges were subject to a variety of abuses, including long solitary confinement, severe limitations on outdoor exercise and out-of-cell activity, inability to engage in professional work, denial of access to the library and media, slow medical attention, and in some cases the denial of medical treatment. Media reports also alleged that visitors to prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes faced abuse, including limited access to family, strip searches, and degrading treatment by prison guards.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, although this differed in practice. Citizens and legal entities such as organizations and companies have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. On constitutional and human rights issues, the law also provides for individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court, theoretically allowing for faster and simpler high-level review of alleged human rights violations within contested court decisions. Critics complained that, despite this mechanism, the large volume of appeals of dismissals under the state of emergency and decreased judicial capacity caused by purges in the judiciary resulted in a backlog that slowed proceedings. Citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies have the right to apply for redress to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Tens of thousands of individuals dismissed from government jobs appealed to the ECHR. In January the government established the Commission of Inquiry on Practices under the State of Emergency to adjudicate appeals of wrongfully dismissed civil servants. In May members of the commission were named and began accepting applications in July, which reached 102,000 as of September. The ECHR remanded the cases filed by Turkish nationals to the commission in July, citing the Commission of Inquiry as a suitable means of domestic redress. In late December the commission issued its first rulings on a limited number of cases. Critics complained that the appeals process was opaque, slow, and did not respect citizens’ rights to due process, including by prohibiting defendants from seeing the evidence against them or presenting exculpatory evidence in their defense.
Figures regarding the toll of the state of emergency released by human rights groups and multiple officials during the course of the year varied. According to the HRA, since the coup attempt and pursuant to state of emergency decrees, more than 116,000 public employees had been dismissed or suspended; more than 4,00 judges and prosecutors had been dismissed; 49 private health-care facilities had been shut down; more than 2,300 private educational institutions–including schools, tutoring academies, and dormitories–had been closed along with 15 private universities and 19 unions and trade confederations; 187 media companies had been shut down; and nearly 1,600 associations or foundations had been closed. Other suspensions, dismissals, and reinstatements took place outside of the context of state of emergency decrees; observers estimated these impacted tens of thousands of other civil servants. Individuals and legal entities affected by the state of emergency decrees were eligible to appeal to the Commission of Inquiry.
In multiple parts of the southeast, many citizens continued efforts to appeal the government’s expropriations of properties in 2016 to reconstruct areas damaged in government-PKK fighting.
The government reported that as of October, it had expended 2.6 billion lira ($690 million) for reconstruction, new building construction, and infrastructure in conflict zones, primarily in areas of the southeast damaged in 2015-16 clashes with the PKK.
In May the government expropriated properties in the Alipasa and Lalebey neighborhoods of Diyarbakir’s historic Sur district in the southeast, the site of major 2015-16 urban clashes between the government and PKK, for the purposes of facilitating government reconstruction. The government planned to demolish buildings and rebuild under an “urban renewal” program through which residents were compensated, although residents claimed compensation was not enough to find replacement housing. Several local residents resisted for weeks requests to vacate their homes, leading to police intervention in Diyarbakir. Amnesty International launched a campaign calling attention to the forced removals of residents.
Since the 2016 coup attempt the government has seized approximately 1,000 businesses worth an estimated 46 billion lira ($12 billion), according to government officials. The HRA reported that, in the first 11 months of the year, the government seized the assets of more than 180 shuttered media companies. In September the government’s Saving Deposit Insurance Fund announced it would sell the assets of 21 media companies.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution provides for the “secrecy of private life” and states that individuals have the right to demand protection and correction of their personal information and data, the law provides the MIT the power to collect information while limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. MIT may collect data from any entity without a warrant or other judicial process for approval. At the same time, the law establishes criminal penalties for conviction of interfering with MIT activities, including data collection or obtaining or publishing information concerning the agency. The law gives MIT and its employees immunity from prosecution. An August state of emergency decree placed MIT under the presidency, providing the president enhanced oversight of the institution.
Police possess broad powers for personal search and seizure. Senior police officials may authorize search warrants, with judicial permission to follow within 24 hours. Individuals subjected to such searches have the right to file complaints, but judicial permission occurring after a search has already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.
Security forces may conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against potential abuse of this power, the Prime Ministry Inspection Board may conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Information on how often this authority was used was not available. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy. Many citizens asserted that authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their email or social media accounts, perpetuating widespread self-censorship under the continuing state of emergency. Human rights groups asserted that self-censorship due to fear of official reprisal accounted in part for the relatively low number of complaints they received regarding allegations of torture or mistreatment.
Under the state of emergency, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on some wanted suspects. Government measures included cancelling the passports of family members of civil servants suspended or dismissed from state institutions, as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of individuals outside the country who were wanted for or accused of ties to Gulen.
In November 2016 the Ministry of Family and Social Policies stated the government could remove children from their families if the state finds their guardians supported the coup attempt. For example, in November the press reported that a court returned the adopted daughter of a family in Gumushane Province to an orphanage due to her adoptive father’s alleged links to Gulen.
The Law on the Protection of Personal Data stipulates that personal data–information on race, ethnicity, political thought, philosophical beliefs, religious affiliation, appearance, membership in organizations, health, sexual life, and criminal record, as well as security-related information and biometric/genetic data–may not be processed or transferred abroad without the individual’s explicit consent. By law personal data may only be transferred to a foreign country if there is adequate protection in the receiving country, a written assurance of that protection, and permission of the government’s newly created data-protection authority. Some legal experts asserted that the law fails to protect personal data adequately, particularly because it introduces a series of exceptions that give the state flexibility in collecting and using private data. The European Commission’s 2016 progress report on the country noted that the Law on the Protection of Personal Data did not align with EU standards.
Government seizure and closure of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Clashes between security forces and the PKK and its affiliates continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level relative to 2016, and resulted in the injury or deaths of security forces, PKK terrorists, and an unconfirmed number of civilians. The government continued security operations against the PKK and its affiliates in various areas of the east and southeast. Authorities issued curfews of varying duration in certain urban and rural areas and also decreed “special security zones” in some areas to facilitate counter-PKK operations, restricting access of both visitors and, in some cases, residents. Residents of these areas reported they sometimes had very little time to abandon their homes prior to the launch of counter-PKK security operations. Those who remained faced curfews of varying scope and duration that, at times, restricted their movement and complicated living conditions.
Killings: Estimates of casualties from government-PKK fighting varied considerably and remained a topic of debate at year’s end.
According to a July International Crisis Group report, in 2016 at least 653 security force members, 865 PKK terrorists, 263 civilians, and 139 youth of unknown affiliation died in PKK-related fighting.
The HRA claimed that in the first 11 months of the year, 183 security officers, 52 civilians, and 460 PKK affiliates were killed during clashes; 282 security officers and 28 civilians were reportedly injured. It reported that another 23 persons, including six children, were killed and 46 were injured in accidents involving the vehicles of security forces.
The HRA asserted that security officers killed 36 civilians and injured 12 in arbitrary killings throughout the country during the same period, including at government checkpoints and in government-PKK violence.
The government data on casualty tolls was unavailable.
PKK tactics included assault with conventional weapons, vehicle-borne bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and targeted killings, inter alia. At times IEDs or unexploded ordinance, usually attributed to the PKK, killed or maimed civilians. The HRA reported that, in the first 11 months of the year, IEDs generally attributed to the PKK killed one adult and five children and injured 25 persons, including 18 children.
In several cases during the year, human rights groups alleged the government failed to take adequate steps to protect civilians caught in the conflict between security forces and the PKK. PKK attacks claimed the lives of noncombatant civilians, including through kidnappings. In July authorities found the remains of a teacher, Necmettin Yilmaz, whom the PKK allegedly kidnapped in June. On July 8, alleged PKK terrorists attacked four vehicles in Hakkari Province, leaving four civilians dead. The PKK reportedly kidnapped and killed a shepherd in Sirnak, also in July. On June 9, a PKK attack killed Senay Aybuke Yalcin, a 22-year-old music teacher in Batman Province.
PKK attacks also targeted political figures with assassination campaigns. On July 1, the PKK-affiliated Women’s Civil Protection Unit kidnapped the ruling AKP deputy district chair for Diyarbakir’s Lice District, Orhan Mercan, in the middle of the night and shot and killed him near his home in Diyarbakir. On July 2, the PKK-affiliated People’s Defense Force kidnapped the AKP deputy district chair for Van’s Ozalp District, Aydin Ahi, in the middle of the night and killed him in front of his home. Police later detained 16 persons in connection with the killing.
Abductions: The PKK abducted both officials and civilians throughout the year. According to media reports, the PKK claimed it had abducted 20 persons, including two MIT employees.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights groups alleged that police, other government security forces, and the PKK abused some civilian residents of the southeast. In June police allegedly beat three suspects while in custody in Gevas, in Van Province. The three were allegedly involved in a mortar attack against a police building. The suspects were later released and no charges filed, allegedly because police arrested the men in error. On May 30, Bergul Varan, a member of a leftist music band Grup Yorum, was detained by police along with 13 others during a raid on the Istanbul Culture Center. She alleged police pulled out large clumps of her hair while she was in custody.
Child Soldiers: The government alleged the PKK recruited and forcibly abducted children for conscription, while many in the country’s Kurdish community asserted that youth generally joined the terrorist group voluntarily. Authoritative data on PKK youth recruitment remained elusive as of year’s end.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Extensive damage stemming from government-PKK fighting led authorities in 2016 to expropriate certain properties in specific districts of the southeast to facilitate post-conflict reconstruction. Many of these areas remained inaccessible to residents at year’s end due to reconstruction. In Diyarbakir’s Sur District, the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Mar Peytun Chaldean Church remained under the de facto control of the government during restoration. Some affected residents filed court challenges seeking permission to remain on expropriated land and receive compensation; many of these cases remained pending at year’s end. In certain cases courts ruled to award compensation to aggrieved residents, although the latter complained it was insufficient. Overall numbers of those awarded compensation was unavailable at year’s end.
Government actions and adverse security conditions limited journalists’ and international observers’ access to affected areas, which made monitoring and assessing the aftermath of these urban conflicts difficult.
The government dismissed elected mayors and replaced them with Ministry of Interior-appointed trustees, largely for alleged support of the PKK. This practice primarily affected southern and southeastern cities mayors representing the pro-Kurdish DBP and HDP. In November the HRA reported that women in the southeast were disproportionately affected by the state of emergency and cited restrictions on freedom of movement, the shuttering of women’s NGOs by emergency decree, and the impact of the arrest and removal of female DBP/HDP elected representatives.