HRW calls on Turkey to release jailed critics, respect election results

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The prolonged and arbitrary detention of journalists, human rights defenders and politicians blights Turkey’s claims of being a country that respects human rights and the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday in its World Report 2020.

In 2019 Turkey’s authorities unsuccessfully attempted to reverse the result of the March 31 municipal election in İstanbul, which the government candidate lost, but went on to cancel election results in the mainly Kurdish Southeast by removing and detaining elected mayors, also from an opposition party, in major cities.

Turkey also restricted the right to peaceful protest and assembly, arbitrarily banned gatherings by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups and others, carried out enforced disappearances and failed to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police custody.

“Keeping government critics locked up and cancelling the results of local elections won by opposition party candidates demonstrates the lengths to which the [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan presidency will go to undermine human rights and democracy in Turkey,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey silences dissent and has once more denied its Kurdish voters their chosen local representatives.”  

Turkey’s presidency forced a controversial rerun of the March 31, 2019 local election in the İstanbul metropolitan municipality, which was won by opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu. In southeastern Turkey the authorities have removed 32 elected mayors from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and detained 23 of them, accusing them of terrorist links.

Among government critics held in prolonged and arbitrary detention are Osman Kavala, a human rights defender; Ahmet Altan, a writer; Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, elected mayor of Diyarbakır; and Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, former chairs of the HDP.

Thousands of government critics have been prosecuted on terrorism charges in unfair proceedings that lack compelling evidence, resulting in bogus convictions that demonstrate the presidency’s intolerance of legitimate dissenting opinion and the right to political association in the country, the report says.

Thousands of ordinary people labeled supporters of the Fethullah Gülen movement or accused of links to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been detained without compelling evidence of their involvement in criminal activities.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Gülen, of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on followers of the movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight as a result of which more than 150,000 people were removed from state jobs while in excess of 30,000 others were jailed and some 600,000 people have been investigated on allegations of terrorism.

“Until Turkey’s presidency ensures the release of government critics from detention and respects elections won by opposition parties, there can be no return to the rule of law and democracy in the country,” Williamson said.

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.

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