HRW report: One-fifth of Turkey’s prison population jailed on terrorism charges

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AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

Close to one-fifth of the total prison population in Turkey has been charged with or convicted of terrorism offenses, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Thursday.

While detailing multi-dimensional human rights violations in Turkey in the year 2018, the HRW report provides striking numbers on the wide use of terrorism charges and the jailing of people without due process. The report cites Ministry of Justice figures from June 2018, saying that 48,924 of a total prison population of 246,426 had been charged with or convicted of terrorism offenses. The report underlines that those prosecuted and convicted included journalists, civil servants, teachers and politicians as well as police officers and military personnel.

The HRW report further breaks down the prison population accused of terrorism: Of the 48,924 people jail on charges of terrorism, 34,241 were held for alleged Gülenist [in reference to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is referred as FETÖ in Turkey’s lexicon] links, 10,286 for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and 1,270 for alleged links to the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Along with other human rights organizations, HRW also points out that in 2018 Turkey remained the world leader in jailing journalists. An estimated 175 journalists and media workers were in pretrial detention or serving sentences for terrorism offenses at the time of writing. Hundreds more are on trial but at liberty according to the report.

In addition, even human rights advocates were among the more than 1,500 lawyers standing trial on terrorism charges at the time of writing, HRW stated. According to the human rights advocacy group, their cases “underscore the dramatic erosion of defendants’ rights and due process in Turkey.”

HRW Chairman Kenneth Roth announced the report on Twitter on Wednesday, citing Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among rising autocrats. According to the HRW report, the June 2018 election, which effectively made Erdoğan the executive president of the country, took place under a state of emergency imposed after a July 2016 attempted coup and in a climate of media censorship and repression of perceived government enemies and critics that persisted throughout the year, with many journalists as well as parliamentarians and the presidential candidate from the pro-Kurdish opposition in jail.

According to HRW, the two-year state of emergency formally lapsed in July but was replaced with new counterterrorism legislation, approved by parliament in August.

The legislation contains many measures similar to the extraordinary powers the authorities enjoyed under the state of emergency.

Directing attention to an ongoing purge in the bureaucracy, the HRW report said a commission reviewing the dismissal of more than 130,000 public officials had issued decisions in 36,000 cases, with 2,300 reinstated in their jobs or similar measures of redress, and at least another 88,660 appeals to review.

Meanwhile, HRW found continued allegations of torture, ill treatment and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison and the lack of any meaningful investigation into them to be a source of “deep concern.”

Turkey considers the Gülen movement a terrorist organization and holds it responsible for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.

The HRW report also mentioned the abduction of movement supporters from abroad. “Without adhering to legal due process, security services in countries including Kosovo and Moldova cooperated with Turkish agents during the year to apprehend and transfer Turkish citizens to Turkey where they were detained and prosecuted,” the report said.

HRW also cited an ongoing crackdown on the Kurdish political movement in the country. The government continued to enforce repressive measures against elected parliamentarians, mayors and municipalities from pro-Kurdish parties, although the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) secured 67 parliamentary seats (11.9 percent of the vote) in the June election, the HRW report underlined.

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