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US State Department annual report details Turkey’s human rights abuses

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The US State Department on March 20 issued its 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices with a subsection on Turkey in which it takes stock of human rights violations in the country, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.

The report listed credible reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and continued detention of tens of thousands of persons, including opposition politicians and former members of parliament, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and an employee of the US Mission, for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech; and political prisoners, including elected officials, as being among the significant human rights issues in the country.

According to the report, members of the security forces committed abuses, and impunity was a significant problem during the year.

“Under broad antiterror legislation passed in 2018, the government continued to restrict the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended tens of thousands of civil servants and government workers, including more than 60,000 police and military personnel and more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors, arrested or imprisoned more than 95,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt and designated as the leader of the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’,” the report’s executive summary 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 suspected links to the movement.

The State Department report also pointed to transnational reprisal against individuals located outside the country, including kidnappings and transfers to Turkey of alleged members of the Gülen movement.

The report identified the Turkish government’s transnational repression tactics as extraterritorial killing, kidnapping and forced returns; threats, harassment, surveillance and coercion; misuse of international law enforcement tools; and efforts to control mobility.

In a joint letter UN rapporteurs accused the Turkish government of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns to Turkey, with at least 100 Turkish nationals from multiple states to Turkey.

In a number of cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

The report also cited “significant problems with judicial independence; support for Syrian opposition groups that perpetrated serious abuses in conflict, including the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; severe restriction of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including overly restrictive laws regarding government oversight of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on movement; refoulement of refugees; serious government harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons” among the significant human rights issues.

The report underlined the crackdown on the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the third largest political party in parliament. “As of year’s end, seven former HDP parliamentarians and six HDP co-mayors were in detention following arrest.  According to the HDP, since July 2015 at least 5,000 HDP lawmakers, executives, and party members were incarcerated for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech,” the report stated.

“Human rights groups stated the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party],” it said. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

In the section on “arbitrary deprivation of life,” the report cited the Baran Tursun Foundation, an organization that monitors police brutality, which said that Turkish police killed 430 individuals, including 95 children, for disobeying warnings to halt between 2007 and September 2022.

Concerning allegations of enforced disappearance, the report cited human rights groups that raised the issue of Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, a former legal advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed after the 2016 coup attempt, who may have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Küçüközyiğit last contacted his family in December 2020, and his relatives believe he was abducted. Authorities denied Küçüközyiğit was in official custody; however, in September Küçüközyiğit’s daughter announced on social media that she received a telephone call from him and that he was in Sincan Prison in Ankara.

The report also cited human rights organizations that “appealed for authorities to investigate the disappearance of Yusuf Bilge Tunc, one of seven men reportedly “disappeared” by the government in 2019.

Although six of the seven abductees surfaced in 2019 in police custody, Tunç’s whereabouts remain unknown, the report said, adding that the Turkish government declined to provide information on efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts.

The report also tackled the issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, citing domestic and international rights groups who “reported that some police officers, prison authorities, and military and intelligence units employed these practices.”

According to the report, individuals with alleged affiliation with the PKK or the Gülen movement were more likely to be subjected to mistreatment, abuse or possible torture.

With reference to human rights groups’ reports, it said police frequently used excessive force during detentions, injuring protesters.

Prison administrators used strip searches punitively against prisoners and visitors, particularly in cases where the prisoner was convicted on terrorism charges, the report said, citing NGOs and opposition politicians.

Prison overcrowding, deaths in prison related to illness, violence or other causes and the imprisonment of at least 383 children with their mothers as of August were also highlighted in the report.

The report also referred to repression against lawyers, saying authorities had prosecuted more than 1,600 lawyers, arrested 615 and sentenced 551 to lengthy prison terms on terrorism-related charges since the coup attempt in 2016.

“The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch,” the report said.

“Human rights organizations and CPT reports asserted prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, lighting, food, and health services. Human rights organizations also noted that prison overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions exacerbated health risks. Prisons did not provide disinfectant, gloves, or masks to prisoners, but instead sold them at commissaries.  Adequate materials are not provided to prisoners who are unable to pay. According to a March survey of prisoners by the NGO Media and Law Studies Association conducted in five facilities, 56 percent of respondents reported not having sufficient hygienic supplies,” the report said.

According to the report, the government’s prosecution and jailing of journalists hindered freedom of expression; authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security; and the government continued to restrict access to the internet and expanded its blocking of selected online content.

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