US State Dep’t cites widespread rights abuses, impunity, in annual human rights report on Turkey

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The US Department of State on Wednesday released its annual human rights report on Turkey in which it listed ongoing widespread rights violations as well as impunity for officials and members of the security forces involved in the abuses.

“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 US 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 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 report’s executive summary read.

“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.”

In the section on “arbitrary deprivation of life,” the report referred to Turkey’s October 2019 operation against Kurdish-held northeastern Syria, citing attacks against civilians as well as the killing of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf by Turkey-supported armed group Ahrar al-Sharqiya.

The report also cited a local Turkish rights watchdog about the suspicious deaths of detainees in custody and in prison.

Concerning allegations of enforced disappearances, the report cited member of parliament Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who raised the issue of 28 such incidents as well as the simultaneous disappearance of six individuals suspected by authorities of having links to the Gülen movement.

“They included Erkan Irmak (reported missing February 16), Salim Zeybek (reported missing February 21), Ozgur Kaya (reported missing on February 13), and Mikail Ugan (reported missing on February 13). In November Mustafa Yilmaz (reported missing on February 19) and Gokhan Turkmen (reported missing February 7) were ‘found’ in Ankara. Eyewitness reports in February alleged that approximately 40 plainclothes police officers in Ankara abducted several of the men and took them away in an unmarked van. The government declined to provide information on efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts,” the report said.

Turkey accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016 although the movement strongly denies any involvement in it. Turkish authorities regularly prosecute anyone with any sort of suspected links to the movement, regardless of alleged involvement in the attempted putsch. The number of individuals detained on grounds of alleged affiliation or connection with the movement has reached 540,000, according to figures announced by the government. The report described the evidentiary standards of the prosecutions as “questionable” and highlighted a lack of guarantee for due process under law.

The report also tackled the issue of torture and ill-treatment in custody, citing several instances where government agents were involved in brutal interrogation techniques against detainees with suspected ties to the Gülen movement or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), including former members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May and three Kurdish minors between the ages of 14 and 17 in February. The report also underlined the refusal of Turkish authorities to effectively investigate the allegations.

Prison overcrowding, a significant rise seen in the use of solitary confinement and imprisonment of at least 780 children with their mothers as of December were also highlighted in the report.

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