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Italian NGO report reveals alarming misuse of anti-terrorism tools in Turkey after 2016 coup

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The Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDU) has stated in a recent report that they are “concerned” over prosecutorial practices in terrorism cases in Turkey, particularly in the aftermath of an attempted coup on July 15, 2016.

The report, titled “Perils of Unconstrained Prosecutorial Discretion: Prosecuting Terrorism Offences in Post-Coup Turkey,” examines the adherence of Turkish prosecutors to domestic standards and international legal obligations in terrorism-related prosecutions in the post-coup period, shedding light on the alarming misuse of anti-terrorism and security tools.

The report lists the 18 most commonly used criteria for charges under counterterrorism legislation on the basis of a detailed analysis of 118 indictments that accuse individuals of membership in the faith-based Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt and labels a “terrorist organization.”

The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Among the criteria are using or downloading the Bylock messaging application; being an executive or a member of a trade union that has been closed/dissolved under a post-coup state of emergency for their alleged links to the movement; subscription to periodicals that have been closed/dissolved under the state of emergency for their alleged links to the movement; donations made to relief organizations with alleged links to the movement; expressing support for the opposition parties or criticizing the government for human rights violations; possessing a 1 USD banknote; traveling abroad; and anonymous tips /denunciations or secret witness statements.

According to the report, in the environment of fear enabled by the “coercive” state power in post-coup Turkey, the practice of prosecutors, “known as their traditional statist and regime-supporting approach,” has moved further away from basic domestic and international standards, resulting in an alarming rise in the criminalization of ordinary, lawful activities for hundreds of thousands of individuals.

The report finds such “serious flaws” in the prosecutorial practices in the post-coup indictments as the lack of a coherent presentation of evidence or logical reasoning between suspects and alleged offenses; strong political/ideological language; the deliberate construction of unsound and illogical plots and conspiracy theories; the lack of reasonable suspicion; and ultimately the reversal of the presumption of innocence.

These flaws eventually led to several judgments, decisions, and opinions in which the main international human rights bodies including the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the United Nations Human Rights Committee and other UN treaty bodies such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) condemned Turkey’s post-coup practices due to the lack of essential human rights perspective, the report further said.

The authors of the report urge Turkish prosecutors to “write the indictment in a plain and concise language, clearly explain the factual and legal basis of the accusations, provide a coherent casual connection and link between the evidence and charges, take into account evidence in favor of the suspect, refrain from resorting to illogical plots and conspiracy theories and respect and protect human dignity and uphold human rights when performing their duties.”

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Victims of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown say they and their families experience severe financial and psychological problems due to what they call hate speech employed by the government and its supporters against them, which prevents them from leading normal lives, finding jobs and supporting their families.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been convicted of charges of terrorist organization membership due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt. In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

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