Turkey is a constitutional republic with an executive presidential system and a 600-seat parliament. The unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. In presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers expressed concern regarding restrictions on media reporting and the campaign environment that restricted the ability of opposition candidates, including the jailing of a presidential candidate at the time, to compete on an equal basis and campaign freely. In March municipal elections, Council of Europe observers expressed similar concerns about limitations on freedom of expression, particularly for the media, and about a legal framework that contributed to an unequal campaign environment. The observers also criticized the Supreme Electoral Council’s decision to rerun the Istanbul mayoral race in June and several decisions replacing winning opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) candidates with second-place governing-party candidates.
The National Police and Jandarma, under the control of the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in urban areas and rural and border areas respectively. The military has overall responsibility for border control and external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over law enforcement, but mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem.
Under broad antiterror legislation the government restricted fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended more than 45,000 police and military personnel and more than 130,000 civil servants, dismissed one-third of the judiciary, arrested or imprisoned more than 80,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt, and designated by the government as the leader of the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”).
Significant human rights issues included: reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons, including former opposition members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, foreign citizens, and employees of the U.S. Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; the existence of political prisoners, including elected officials and academics; significant problems with judicial independence; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and unjustified arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking and the existence of criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; some cases of refoulement of refugees; and violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and members of other minorities.
The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses; impunity remained a problem.
Clashes between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization and its affiliates continued, although at a reduced level compared with previous years, and resulted in the injury or death of security forces, PKK terrorists, and civilians. The government did not release information on efforts to investigate or prosecute personnel for wrongful or inadvertent deaths of civilians linked to counter-PKK operations.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A limited number of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country, although many faced continued pressure from the government during the year. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations. Human rights groups reported the government was sometimes unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights abuses occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, and harassment, and their organizations faced closure orders for their activities. For example, in May a court sentenced 11 members of the executive board of the Turkish Medical Doctors Union to between 20 months’ and three years’ imprisonment for alleged terror propaganda for their 2018 public statement that “war is a public health issue” during the country’s Operation Olive Branch intervention in Syria. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations.
Human rights groups reported continued and intense government pressure. In one case, Osman Kavala, a prominent philanthropist and civil society leader jailed since 2017, remained in prison on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government” for involvement during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. The government also prosecuted on similar charges 15 others loosely associated with Kavala, including human rights activists and academics. Local and international human rights groups criticized the detentions and trials as politically motivated and lacking evidentiary justification.
The HRA reported that as of June its members had cumulatively faced more than 5,000 legal cases, mostly related to terror and insult charges since the group’s establishment. The HRA also reported that executives of their provincial branches were in prison. The HRFT reported its founders and members were facing 30 separate criminal cases. The harassment, detention, and arrest of many leaders and members of human rights organizations resulted in some organizations closing offices and curtailing activities and some human rights defenders self-censoring.
Some international and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty renewing their official registrations with the government, obtaining program approvals, and obtaining residency permits for their staff. Some noted the government’s documentation requirements were unclear.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government continued to staff its human rights monitoring body, the NHREI. According to August press reports, the NHREI received at least 10 applications regarding prison conditions and the practices of prison authorities. The NHREI did not accept any of the complaints. In response to an application regarding prison overcrowding, the NHREI stated that “due to the increased number of arrestees [related to the state of emergency period] and intensity of the capacity in prisons, such practice shall be accepted as proportionate.” Critics complained the institution was ineffective and lacked independence.
The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament but as an independent complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues, although dismissals under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees did not fall within its purview. According to online data, in 2018 the office received 17,585 applications for assistance, the majority of which dealt with public personnel issues.
The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures, established in 2017 to address cases and appeals related to purges and closures during the state of emergency, announced in July that it had reviewed a total of 482,000 case files since its inception. From 2017 to August, the commission rejected 77,600 appeals and accepted approximately 6,700. Critics complained the commission’s decisions were opaque, biased, and slow.
The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department served as its lead entity on human rights issues, coordinating its work with the ministry’s Victims’ Rights Department.
Parliament’s Human Rights Commission functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members maintained dialogue with NGOs on human rights issues and conducted some prison visits, although activists claimed the commission’s ability to influence government action was limited.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The government and independent monitoring groups reported with concern that violence against women, particularly femicides, increased, compared with 2018. The law criminalizes violence against women and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims. For example, in May human rights lawyer Muzeyyen Boylu Issi was shot and killed by her husband in front of their children, after having survived two previous attempts on her life and filing for divorce and a protection order. As of November the husband, Mesut Issi, was in prison pending trial. If convicted of murder, he could face additional charges of aggravated life imprisonment.
The law covers all women 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 mandates 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 violence-prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. There were 144 women’s shelters nationwide, providing shelter to approximately 30,000 women. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Some NGOs noted shelters in multiple southeastern provinces closed during the state of emergency and that others faced difficulty following the removal of elected mayors and appointment of government trustees, some of whom cut funding and ended partnerships with the local NGOs. Some NGOs noted the lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTI women as well as women with older children. The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence. According to press reports, 13,000 women had used the KADES app to report violence as of September.
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 conviction of crimes such as assault, deprivation of liberty, or threats. Despite these measures, killings and other forms of violence against women continued unabated. According to the We Will Stop Femicide Association, 430 women were murdered in the first 11 months of the year; 53 in September alone.
On August 24, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Istanbul and in other cities around the country to protest gender-based violence following the public killing of Emine Bulut by her former husband in front of their 10-year-old daughter. Social media users shared video of the attack, and the victim’s dying words, “olmek istemiyorum” (“I don’t want to die”), became a rallying cry for demonstrators and on social media. In October Bulut’s former husband was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following the incident, women’s rights groups called for the enforcement of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, and leaders from across the political spectrum denounced that attack. Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported that police rarely enforced them effectively. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.
In October Ayse Tuba Arslan’s former husband attacked her with a meat cleaver. Arslan had pressed charges against her former husband 23 times; an Eskisehir court dismissed five of the 10 charges filed during the year. Police failed to enforce the court-issued restraining orders effectively. Arslan died of her wounds on November 25.
Courts in some cases gave 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. For example, in August an Adana court reduced the sentence of Mehmet Ciftci from life imprisonment to 18 years’ imprisonment for good behavior. Ciftci was convicted of murdering his 19-year-old wife, who was four months pregnant at the time of her murder.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights activists and academics reported the problematic practice of “honor killings” of women continued across the country (31 cases reported during the year). The prevalence of killings was most severe in the southeast.
Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences 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.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer; however, women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws. For example, in February a police officer sexually harassed a university student being detained during a protest in Ankara. According to local media, despite the existence of photographic evidence, police attempted to cover up the incident, accused the victim of having ties to a terror organization, and detained and interrogated the journalist who interviewed the victim and her family.
Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened. In one case, in September a woman physically attacked in Ankara reported that authorities tried to legitimize the attack by questioning her during her deposition about what she was wearing and whether the attack occurred late at night.
Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. Women’s advocates expressed concern that laws passed in 2018 to encourage dispute resolution through mediation rather than the court system would reduce the severity of criminal punishment given perpetrators of violence against women, thereby reducing the deterrent effect of the law, undermining women’s safety, and potentially enabling impunity.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment.
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 employers for several months for any female employee older than age 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required child care by large employers. Rights organizations contended, however, that these changes in the legal framework discouraged employers from hiring women and negatively impacted their promotion potential.
Birth Registration: There was 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 convey 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 citizenship.
Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education, some families were able to keep female students home. The Education Reform Initiative, an NGO focusing on education, reported in its Education Monitoring Report for 2017-18 that the government took important positive steps to expand girls’ access to education, including by providing conditional cash transfers to incentivize poor families to continue education for their daughters. According to education union Egitim Sen, based on 2018-19 reporting, the rate for schooling decreased to 91 percent and the rate for girls’ schooling decreased to 91 percent, compared with 99 percent in 2013-14. According to European Statistics Office data, drop-out rates in the country were 34 percent for girls and 31 percent for boys in 2017, an improving trend.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in its Education at a Glance report, stated the number of young adults who attained a tertiary education had doubled in the last year, although it noted that nearly half of them did not complete upper secondary education.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported failed implementation. The law 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.
By law, if the victim of abuse is between the age of 12 and 18, molestation results 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. If the victim is younger than 12, molestation results in a minimum five-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in a minimum 10-year sentence, and rape in a minimum 18-year sentence.
Government authorities increased attention on the problem of child abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, imprisonment sentences for child sexual abuse in the country increased to 18,000 in 2018. Child rights experts reported that the increased attention on the problem had led to greater awareness and reporting. The women’s NGO We Will Stop Femicides reported that, in just the month of July 2018, there were 433 reported cases of child sexual abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 16,348 child sex abuse cases filed in 2017.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.
NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian population living in the country. The government’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before age 15 and 38 percent married before age 18. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, 26 percent of women in the country married before the age of 18, and 10 percent gave birth to their first child before the age of 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among the Turkish and Syrian population in major southeast provinces.
Separately, women’s rights groups stated that forced marriages and bride kidnapping persisted, particularly in rural areas, although it was not as widespread as in previous years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child prostitution is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence.
The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations.
Incest involving children remained a problem, although prosecutions remained minimal. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.
Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, there were approximately 16,000 Jews living in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns about anti-Semitism.
Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. On July 31, a video was posted on social media showing children at an apparent summer camp being led in chants calling for death to Jews. Leading individuals in the community denounced the video, which was viewed more than 400,000 times, and expressed concern at such forms of indoctrination and hatred at such a young age. HDP member of parliament Garo Paylan called for an investigation into the incident for possible prosecution under hate crimes statutes. On March 28, an unidentified attacker attempted to throw a Molotov cocktail at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Izmir. The synagogue was not damaged in the attack, and police apprehended and charged a suspect within a few days.
The premiere of the film Cicero generated controversy and condemnation when the scenery for the premiere’s red carpet walk depicted features of a concentration camp, including striped uniforms draped on barbed wire fencing and guard dogs. The local Jewish community, columnists, and AKP lawmakers denounced the display as disgraceful. The filmmakers subsequently apologized.
During the campaign for Istanbul mayor, altered images of opposition CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu showing him shaking hands with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and meeting with a group of Orthodox Jews appeared on social media in an effort to discredit him, according to commentators. Disparaging comments and statements calling Imamoglu a friend of Zionism accompanied the images.
In November an IYI party member of parliament made a remark on social media commenting on a government official’s family’s “excessive” display of wealth, posting, “There is a group of people that have become rich due to their undeserved income and live luxuriously, we call them Protestant Muslims. These people have become Jews, mentally.” The post received widespread criticism on social media.
In October social media users and media outlets shared photographs of anti-Christian and anti-Semitic posters hung at municipal bus stops in the central Anatolian town of Konya by the local branches of the Anatolian Youth Association and National Youth Foundation. The posters cited a Quranic verse that appeared to advise Muslims not to befriend Christians and Jews. The images also included a crucifix and Star of David with what appeared to be droplets of blood. Social media users from all three faiths criticized the posters as insulting to religious minorities, misrepresenting the message of the Quran, and undermining the dignity of the nation. The private advertising company leasing the billboards said the associations changed the content of the posters before printing them, and the company replaced the images with Turkish flags shortly after the concerns appeared on social media. The Anatolian Youth Association described the situation as a misunderstanding and indicated it was investigating the cause of the incident.
Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year. According to a Hrant Dink Foundation report on hate speech, as of August 31, there were 430 published instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the press depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and enemies of the country. A reader’s letter published in Yeni Akit claimed Jewish residents in Istanbul trained street dogs to bite Muslims and repeated historic blood libel anti-Semitic tropes. Some commentators criticized the letter as ridiculous, and former AKP member of parliament Mustafa Yeneroglu denounced its content as “the language of the Nazis,” according to multiple media reports. In some instances officials and party representatives denounced stories with anti-Semitic content on social media.
The government took several positive steps to combat anti-Semitism. On January 24, Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also issued a written statement marking the occasion. On February 21, the Istanbul governor’s office hosted a commemoration for the sinking of the Struma and the loss of nearly 800 Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in 1942. In April, September, and December, President Erdogan sent the Jewish community public messages celebrating Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah, respectively, that highlighted religious diversity as part of “the country’s most important wealth that strengthens unity and solidarity.”
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively. In March the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights reported there were serious structural and institutional barriers with respect to access and justice for persons with disabilities, specifically citing accessibility problems as. barriers to voting and holding public office.
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 made little progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained limited.
The Ministry of Labor, Social Services, and Family is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.
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. According to a June report by the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, 353,610 students with disabilities were in school, with 257,770 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. There were more than 12,000 teachers working in special education schools. A Ministry of Labor, Social Services, and Family program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.
In April the UN Committee on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities concluded that, while the country ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and had achieved progress since the ratification in 2009, concerns persisted regarding the prevalence of medical, charitable, and paternalistic approaches to disability. The association called for greater awareness raising among the public concerning disability rights, establishing more robust complaint mechanisms for persons with disabilities, addressing physical accessibility issues, and responding to allegations of discrimination against the disabled.
On January 9, the government announced the addition of 3,200 citizens with disabilities to the public sector during the year, bringing the total employed in the public sector to 56,500. The private sector employed 124,000 of the two million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota implemented in 2014 requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include in its workforce at least 2 percent employees with disabilities. The public-sector requirement is 4 percent. There has been no reporting regarding the implementation of fines for accountability. President Erdogan declared 2020 the “year of accessibility,” with particular focus on mass transit and building entrances.
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 Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully.
More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities in rural areas throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut. In October the International Crisis Group reported 4,686 persons, including state security personnel, PKK-affiliated militants, civilians, and individuals of unknown affiliation, had been killed in the conflict since mid-2015.
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish language courses, and two universities had Kurdish language departments, although several instructors in these departments were among the thousands of university personnel fired under official decrees, leaving the programs unstaffed. 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; this right was not protected in practice.
The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services. In June authorities in some districts of Istanbul began enforcing a new regulation that requires 75 percent of signage be in Turkish and removed signs in Arabic. A government-appointed trustee mayor in Siirt removed a multilingual welcome sign in the majority Kurdish city in February. The original sign featured welcome messages in Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic (using a Latin script). It was replaced with a sign only in Turkish.
On International Mother Language Day, February 21, members of parliament from opposition CHP and HDP parties delivered official remarks in the Laz, Armenian, and Kurdish languages. The official parliamentary record registered only an “x” in place of their respective remarks, and the footnotes indicated only the Turkish language would be recorded.
Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education.
An Armenian-language television station, Luys TV, inaugurated its programming by broadcasting Orthodox Christmas services in January. The channel featured news broadcasts, children’s programs, and discussion forums on topical issues for the community, according to media reports.
Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. Members of the Romani community also reported they faced problems with access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in utilizing government offers to subsidize rent on apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. Unofficial estimates indicated more than 90 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many worked in jobs in the informal economy. In line with a national Romani strategy adopted by the cabinet in 2016, the government carried out a number of pilot projects to enhance social inclusion of Romani citizens, including vocational courses offered by the government’s employment agency, IsKur. Roma advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also expressed concern that NGOs closed during the state of emergency that offered literacy courses to Roma remained shut or continued to face severe restrictions.
While the law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct, provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.
Numerous LGBTI organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. During the year the Ankara governor’s office continued its indefinite ban instituted in 2017 on all public LGBTI events in the province, citing public safety concerns,. In April a regional administrative court lifted the ban and rejected the government’s argument that the prohibition was necessary because some individuals might be provoked to violence by LGBTI events. Despite the decision, the Ankara governor’s office did not change its policy on LGBTI events in the capital and continued to block events on an individual basis.
The criminal code 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 it was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech and assembly rather than to protect minorities. LGBTI definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTI individuals. KAOS-GL, a local NGO focused on LGBTI rights, maintained that, due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities did not provide them social protection.
KAOS-GL reported that some LGBTI individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTI individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTI community.
During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police 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. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTI advocates reported that police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work to extract payoffs and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.
The LGBTI advocacy organization KAOS-GL reported that at least 48 LGBTI individuals faced physical assault in 2018. Of those, only nine cases were reported to authorities; prosecutors pursued one criminal case of the nine reported. In March security personnel at a nightclub in Eskisehir first blocked three transgender individuals from entering the facility, then assaulted the group while a police officer watched and failed to intervene, according to a KAOS-GL report. In May a transsexual woman in Antalya was killed, reportedly due to her identity. The alleged perpetrator was subsequently arrested, and a trial was underway at year’s end. In October two LGBTI individuals were verbally and physically assaulted on a public bus in Antalya. According to activists, the perpetrators justified their actions to police using homophobic insults.
In April a transwoman reported that she was stopped on the street by police officers requesting she provide identification. After inspecting her identity card, police asked her, “Aren’t you ashamed? You are a man, why do you dress like a woman?”; when she tried to record their remarks, police used pepper spray before beating her and bringing her to the police station. After contacting a local LGBTI organization, the woman was released to a hospital. Police charged her with “insult” and resisting the officer on duty.
For the fifth consecutive year, the governor’s office banned Istanbul’s Pride March, citing public safety concerns. Despite the ban and heavy police presence, several hundred activists and supporters took part in the event. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds and prevent participants from entering areas in and around Taksim Square, briefly detaining five participants. Organizers did not hold a transgender march again during the year due to security concerns. Independent activists also reported police presence at all events during the week leading up to the pride march, which they interpreted as an intimidation tactic.
In addition to Istanbul, authorities prohibited pride marches from taking place in Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, Gaziantep, and Mersin. Local and international human rights groups widely criticized the decisions as violations of the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Events took place in most cities despite the bans and resulted in police interventions breaking up the marches.
In August Istanbul police blocked the “Queer Olympix” sporting event scheduled to take place in Istanbul with more than 130 athletes expecting to take part. Organizers reported on social media that authorities justified their action as “a precaution against provocations that may occur due to social sensitivities.” A review of media coverage of LGBTI issues by KAOS-GL, released in April, concluded that half of all stories contained hate speech and discriminatory language.
Some LGBTI groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups complained that rectors denied them permission to organize, and some indicated they faced administrative investigations or other sanctions for participating in events. In May students at the Middle East Technical University organized a pride march over the objections of the university administration. Police detained 22 individuals while breaking up the event using pepper spray, plastic bullets, and tear gas. Organizers reported that 10 of those detained were later stripped of scholarships and educational loans. Civil rights defenders criticized the subsequent indictment of 19 participants as legal harassment of the LGBTI community.
LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines.
Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, since landlords refused to rent to LGBTI individuals or charged significantly higher prices.
Many persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. In December, on World AIDS Day, the Positive Solidarity organization released a statement saying that 49 percent of the persons with HIV were not aware of their HIV status. They assessed that although access to diagnosis and treatment of HIV was readily available, persons avoided being tested due to concerns about social prejudices, stigmatization, and discrimination. In July a teacher was dismissed following the disclosure of his HIV-positive status to his employer by his workplace physician. The individual’s lawyer argued the information should have remained confidential and should not serve as a justification for dismissal. A lawsuit initiated by the dismissed employee continued at year’s end.
The government launched an HIV/AIDS control program to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also implemented HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.
Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolics, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. Attacks on minority places of worship were rare.
According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers between January 1 and August 31 found 2,635 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most-targeted groups were Syrians, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians.
Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in progovernment media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.
Conditional refugees and displaced Syrians under temporary protection also faced increased societal discrimination and violence during the year (see section 2.d.).