Freedom of expression remained restricted despite limited legislative reforms. The police used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. Investigations and prosecutions into alleged human rights abuses by state officials were flawed. The pattern of unfair trials under anti-terrorism legislation persisted. Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. No progress was made in recognizing the right to conscientious objection or in outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The number of refugees from Syria seeking shelter in Turkey reached almost 150,000. Turkey adopted stronger legal protections to combat violence against women and girls but existing mechanisms were inadequately implemented in practice.
Discussions regarding the adoption of a new Constitution continued throughout the year but with little evidence of consensus among the political parties or effective engagement with civil society.
In October, the Parliament passed a resolution authorizing military intervention in Syria for 12 months and another extending the existing authorization for intervention targeting the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq for another year. The vote followed a Syrian mortar landing in Akçakale, a border town in Turkey’s Şanlıurfa province, killing five people.
Armed clashes between the armed forces and the PKK had also increased. The army claimed to have “rendered ineffective” 500 armed PKK members in September alone. In December the government announced that it had taken part in negotiations with the PKK.
Hundreds of prisoners across Turkey went on hunger strike in February and again in September to protest at the authorities’ refusal to allow imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to receive visits from his lawyers, among other demands. The protests ended in April and November respectively, following calls to do so from Abdullah Öcalan.
In May, the Parliament passed the urban regeneration law, which removed procedural guarantees for residents affected by such projects and heightened concerns that they would result in forced evictions. In October, the Parliament passed trade union legislation that failed to uphold ILO standards, particularly with regard to the right to strike and the right to collective bargaining.
In September, more than 300 serving and retired military officers were convicted of planning “Sledgehammer”, an alleged violent plot to overthrow the government. The verdict polarized opinion in Turkey between those seeing it as a victory against impunity for abuses by the military and others who alleged that the evidence used to secure the convictions had been fabricated.Top of page
Little progress was made in addressing the restrictions on freedom of expression in the media and more widely in civil society. Criminal prosecutions frequently targeted non-violent dissenting opinions, particularly on controversial political issues and criticism of public officials and institutions. Dissenting opinions related to issues of Kurdish rights and politics were foremost of those subjected to criminal prosecution.
In July, Parliament passed a series of reforms as part of the “Third Judicial Package”, which abolished or amended several laws used to limit freedom of expression. The reforms did not amend the definitions of offences used to limit freedom of expression, including, notably, those contained in anti-terrorism legislation.
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in official places of detention persisted. In June, the Parliament passed legislation to create an Ombudsman’s Office and a separate national human rights institution. The national human rights institution lacked guarantees of independence. At the end of the year, it was unclear how or whether it would fulfil the obligations of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture in providing independent monitoring of places of detention. Other independent mechanisms promised by the government, such as a police complaints procedure, were not established.
There were frequent allegations of excessive use of force by police during demonstrations, including beatings, throughout the year. Three deaths at demonstrations, allegedly as a result of excessive use of force, were reported.
Investigations and prosecutions of public officials for alleged human rights violations remained flawed with little prospect of those responsible being brought to justice. Convicted officials frequently received suspended sentences and remained in post.
Unfair trials persisted, particularly in respect of prosecutions under anti-terrorism legislation before Special Heavy Penal Courts. Extended pre-trial detention during protracted trials remained a problem notwithstanding legal changes introduced in July seeking to limit its use. Secret witness statements that could not be challenged were used in court and convictions continued to be issued in cases which lacked reliable and substantive evidence. Thousands of such cases brought under anti-terrorism laws related to alleged attendance at demonstrations. Many of those accused were university students. Reforms to the Special Heavy Penal Courts passed by the Parliament in July had not been implemented by the end of the year.
Bomb attacks by unknown individuals or groups continued to kill civilians. The PKK kidnapped civilians in violation of the principles of international humanitarian law.
No reforms were introduced to recognize the right of conscientious objection or to prevent the repeated criminal prosecution of conscientious objectors for their refusal to perform military service. People publicly supporting the right to conscientious objection faced criminal prosecution.
Tens of thousands of people fleeing violence and persecution in Syria crossed the border to seek refuge in Turkey. Government figures cited by UNHCR,
the UN refugee agency, showed that at the end of the year there were more than 148,000 refugees from Syria being accommodated in 14 camps, mostly in border provinces. While the camps were well resourced and organized, many were located close to the conflict zone in Syria and all remained closed to independent scrutiny. From the second half of August, Turkey partially closed its border with Syria in violation of international law. By the end of the year, thousands of displaced people were living in dire conditions in camps beside the border with Turkey.
The government failed to adopt promised legislation protecting the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey. Problems remained regarding the implementation of existing regulations, in particular with regard to allowing asylum applications from places of detention, resulting in the return of individuals to places where they may be at risk of persecution.Top of page
The government rejected civil society calls to include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited discrimination grounds in the new Constitution. No progress was made in adopting comprehensive non-discrimination legislation. LGBTI rights groups continued to report suspected hate murders motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including the murders of five transgender women.Top of page
In March, Turkey ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and passed a law which strengthened protections and allowed for the direct application of the Convention. At the end of the year there were only 103 shelters for survivors of domestic violence, far below the number required by law.
In May, the Prime Minister announced forthcoming legislation on abortion which, if passed, would further restrict access to needed health care for women and girls and contravene their human rights. No proposals to change the law on abortion were introduced during the year, which was legalized in Turkey in 1983.Top of page