Intimidation of civil society through
- The process that started
with the arrest of 10 human rights defenders (who had gathered in Istanbul
Büyükada for a training workshop) on 5 July 2017 following a police raid, has
turned into a campaign of intimidation and threat towards the NGOs operating in
Turkey and all rights defenders.
Rights defenders were tried on charges such as
“committing a crime on behalf of an illegal organization without being a
member” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization”, on
the grounds of their legal rights advocacy activities.
The case, which led to reactions and campaigns on the
national and international level, culminated in prison sentences for four
rights defenders on 3 July 2020. The defenders’ appeal was rejected. The file
is currently pending before the Court of Cassation for review of the appeal
- Many executives of the Human
Rights Association (IHD) were detained on various dates for their rights
advocacy activities, investigations and lawsuits were filed against them. Human
Rights Association Malatya Branch President Gönül Öztürkoğlu was sentenced to 6
years and 3 months in prison for “membership of an armed terrorist
organisation” in December 2019. Istanbul Branch President Gülseren Yoleri
was arrested for her speech at a Saturday Mothers meeting in February 2020.
Human Rights Association’s Central Executive Board Member Raci Bilici was
sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership of a terrorist
organization” in March 2020 for legitimate human rights activities. In October
2020, Criminal proceedings were initiated against the Human Rights Association
President Eren Keskin with the allegation of “making propaganda for a
terrorist organization”, on account of social media posts she had made 5
years ago. In November 2020, Balıkesir Branch President Rafet Fahri Semizoğlu
was arrested on the grounds of his prison visits that he had carried out for
reporting activities of the association. A criminal investigation was launched
against him with the allegation of “providing finances to an illegal
organization”. While Ağrı Branch President Atilla Özbey and Branch Manager
Emin Yıldız were arrested in October 2020, the previous term Ağrı Branch
President Abdulhadi Karakurt was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison.
Adıyaman Branch President Bülent Temel was also among those detained in
Diyarbakır in November 2020.
- The report “The rights
violations that women faced and their experiences during the curfews and forced
migration process” prepared by the Migration Monitoring Association has
been the subject of a criminal investigation with the allegation of
“publicly insulting the military or police organization of the
- Despite the verdict of
acquittal on February 18, 2020, in respect of the civil society activist Osman
Kavala (who took center stage in the Gezi Park protests trial) and all other
defendants, and the release decision issued along with his acquittal, Osman
Kavala was arrested again for another criminal investigation without being
released. However, Osman Kavala had been previously arrested and released on
the grounds of his alleged involvement in the 15 July 2016 coup attempt,
for which a re-arrest warrant was issued.
In its violation judgment dated 10 December 2019, the ECtHR ruled that
this detention was unlawful and was carried out for political purposes. Despite
this judgment, Kavala was not released. The Committee of Ministers of the
Council of Europe discussed Kavala’s ongoing detention at its meetings in
September, October, and December 2020. Despite the Committee’s demands for the
implementation of the ECtHR decision and the immediate release of Osman Kavala,
he continues to be held in detention unfairly. In this process, the
Constitutional Court postponed its decision, citing the new bill of the indictment
issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on September 29, 2020,
the day on which the Constitutional Court was supposed to rule on the
individual application of Kavala concerning his unlawful detention according to
its previous announcement.
- The Constitutional Court
later announced that this application would be discussed on December 15, 2020.
However, on 15 December 2020, they referred the case to Grand Chamber for
In this new indictment, Kavala is facing aggravated
life imprisonment on charges of “abolishing the constitution”, and a
prison sentence of up to 20 years for “espionage”. The first hearing
of this case will be held on December 18 in Istanbul.
The impunity policies continue
Rights defender and the
president of Diyarbakır Bar Association Tahir Elçi was killed on 28 November
2015 when giving a press statement in front of the Four-Legged Minaret to draw attention
to the historical artifacts damaged in the clashes in Sur district during the
curfews. Elçi gave the statement together with the members of the board of
directors and lawyers of the Diyarbakır Bar Association. After nearly 5 years,
the trial of four defendants, including 3 police officers, began in October
In the criminal proceedings
initiated as a result of the intense efforts of Tahir Elçi’s family and his
lawyers, the defendant police officers were not heard face to face in the case
in which they were tried on the charge of “negligent homicide”, which
is not proportionate to the severity of the crime committed. The defendant
police officers’ defense was requested by means of SEGBIS (Audio and Video
Information System), the demands of the lawyers of the Elçi family were not
heard by the court, they were interrupted, threatened with expulsion from the
courtroom, and their right to participate effectively in the trial was denied.
Therefore, the lawyers of the family of Tahir Elçi rejected the panel of
judges, who raised serious concerns about their independence and impartiality
due to their attitude, behavior, and decisions during the hearing. The panel of
judges postponed the hearing to 3 March 2021.
‘Saturday Mothers’ on trial
Turkey’s one of the most
long-standing movements for rights struggle, which has been ongoing for
decades, the Saturday Mothers/People, are being criminalized since the 700th
meeting week on 25 August 2018.
The 700th meeting was
blocked by security forces. The Saturday Mothers / People, IHD members and
executives, and those who came to support them were stopped with water cannons,
rubber bullets, and tear gas. Minister of Interior Affairs Süleyman Soylu
accused the Saturday Mothers/People of “trying to open a field of
legitimacy to terrorist organizations” and “acting as the spokesperson
for terrorist organizations”.
This crackdown approach
taken towards Saturday Mothers/People has been going on since the 700th week.
On 18 November 2020 criminal proceedings were brought against 46 people who had
been detained during the 700th week of the police intervention
Among those asked to stand
trial are relatives of the disappeared, İHD managers and members. A prison
sentence of up to 3 years is requested for violating “The Meetings and
Demonstration Marches Act” “. The trial will begin on 25 March 2021.
Physicians as targets
A large number of
physicians, most of whom were members or directors of the Medical Chambers, who
made statements that were inconsistent with government policies and statements
regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, criticized the government’s policy to fight the
pandemic and explained the real situation and figures about the pandemic, were
arrested and investigated.
- The heads of the Van-Hakkari
Medical Chamber and the Mardin Medical Chamber were called to give statements
within the context of criminal investigations initiated against them on account
of their interviews with the press in the provinces they were responsible for,
regarding public health and the spread of the Covid-19 virus that caused the
global pandemic. The accusation against them was declared as “creating
fear and panic among the people”.
- Chairman of the Urfa Medical
Chamber Dr. Ömer Melik and his General Secretary Dr. Osman Yüksekyayla were
arrested due to the Chamber’s posts on COVID-19 on social media and a criminal
investigation was launched against them. All of the posts subject to
investigation concerned the protection of the public and healthcare workers in
the fight against the pandemic.
- An investigation was
launched against Prof. Dr. Kayıhan Pala for the following statement he made on
21 April 2020: “We think we’re yet to see the peak of the epidemic in
Turkey”. According to the Turkish Medical Association, the Uludag
University Rectorate, to which the prosecutor’s office sent the file with the
decision of “non-jurisdiction” for which a criminal complaint was
made, also decided that there was no need for an investigation after the report
that was prepared.
- On 16 November 2020, the
Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV), the head physician of the Cizre Reference
Center and the Sirnak Chamber President Dr. Serdar Küni
was sentenced to prison for “membership in a terrorist organization”.
The main reason for the punishment is “to treat/attend to people alleged
to be members of an illegal organization”.
- Elected President of the
Central Council of the Turkish Medical Association for the period 2020-2022,
Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı and the Turkish Medical Association were
targeted by AKP party leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdogan said at
his party’s group meeting on 14 October 2020, “Since when can those who are
involved in terrorism take over an important organization like the Turkish
Medical Association? The Turkish Medical Association and some other
professional organizations are clearly violating the Constitution. “We
will do a similar work as that of the [creation of] multiple bar
- On 20 November 2020, Şeyhmus
Gökalp, member of the Turkish Medical Association’s High Honor Board, was
arrested alongside a large number of rights defenders, lawyers, and NGO
representatives, within the scope of an investigation that was stated to be
made against the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). On 23 November 2020, he was detained on
remand with the allegation of “being a member of an illegal
organization”. Despite the reactions, his pre-trial detention continues.
The space for civil society has
- Due to the COVID-19
outbreak, the Ministry of Interior Affairs extended the duration of the ban on
holding general assemblies for the non-governmental organizations first until
December 1, 2020, and then again until February 28, 2021.
General assemblies are a fundamental activity in terms
of association activities and by taking necessary precautions under pandemic conditions,
it may still be possible for them to take place with some alternative
regulations. The ban as a whole, however, turned into another intervention
against civil society activities and reached a level that constitutes a barrier
to the activities.
- Bans on protests and
activities continued in 2020 in many provinces, especially in Kurdish
provinces. Since November 2016, uninterrupted bans on meetings and
demonstrations and all kinds of outdoor activism have been continuing in Van
for 1474 days. On the other hand, de facto bans and obstructions are carried
out effectively across the country.
- The law, which came to the
agenda with the proposal of AKP deputies and obliged notification of membership
of an association, was adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on March
24, 2020. The application of this law makes way for collecting data on the
members of associations). Accordingly, another obstacle has been created to
deter those who wanted to become members of NGOs.
- Social media, which is a
very important channel for demands and calls of rights organizations and of
those whose rights have been violated, has also become the subject of new draft
laws, as the government wants to regulate it. The draft law, which includes
regulations to block access and to facilitate censorship, was removed from the
omnibus law (“torba yasa”) at the beginning of the pandemic process at
the last minute. However, it was later adopted and entered into force in July
Politics of pressure against bar
associations and lawyers
- The former president of the
Diyarbakır Bar Association and 10 board members are either under investigation
or on trial because of the statement they published on 24 April 2017, on the
occasion of the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, as well as their
statements on many different issues and the reports they prepared.
- An investigation by the
Şanlıurfa Public Prosecutor’s Office was initiated against Şanlıurfa Bar
Association President Abdullah Öncel and 26 lawyers registered with the bar
association on the grounds that they organized a press conference and a sit-in
in October 2020, protesting the changes planned to be made to the Law on
Attorneyship. The lawyers were accused of violating The Meetings and
Demonstration Marches Act”
- An investigation was
initiated upon the complaint against the Istanbul Bar Association, on the
grounds that the photograph of Ebru Timtik was hung in the Bar association
building during her funeral ceremony in August 2020.
- The Ankara authorities
announced that all kinds of meetings, marches, and activities were restricted
for 15 days prior to the “Defense Meeting”, which was to be held by
78 bar associations against the AKP and MHP’s “çoklu
baro” proposal to the Parliament. Bar associations
who decided to march from their neighboring provinces were prevented from
- Despite the reactions and
criticisms, an amendment was made to the Law on Attorneyship in July 2020, and
a system called “multiple bar associations” (“çoklu baro”) was introduced. The way was
paved for the establishment of more than one bar association in provinces with
a large number of lawyers. Representations of major bar associations in the
Turkey Bar Association were decreased. This has dealt a heavy blow to the
freedom of association of lawyers and the autonomy of bar associations, and
steps have been taken to weaken the activities of bar associations, whose
voices are increasingly vocal against human rights violations.
- Long-term prison sentences
were given to a group of lawyers from the ÇHD and HHB on charges such as
“leading an illegal organization”, “membership of an illegal
organization” and “knowingly aiding an illegal organization”
were approved by the Supreme Court in September 2020. Many lawyers are still in
prison as part of this trial, either as being convicted or being detained.
- Sevda Çelik Özbingöl, one of
the lawyers of the Şanlıurfa Bar Association, who had been detained during an
operation in March 2020, was released at her hearing last week after a 9-month
detention period. In the meantime, criminal proceedings were also brought
against Çelik Özbingöl and a group of people including lawyers and politicians.
The accusations against them relied on their work concerning human rights
violations. The next hearing in this trial will take place on 3 February 2021.
- Several operations were carried out and investigations were initiated
against lawyers who are members of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom
(Özgürlük için Hukukçular Derneği/ÖHD) for the professional activities as
lawyers. Lawyer Adnan Erol, an ÖHD member, is currently detained on
Obstructions to the activities of unions
- In November 2020, the
gendarmerie intervened when the Soma Uyar Mining workers walked to Ankara for
their indemnities and for worker’s health and work safety. After the
intervention, the experts of the Independent Organization for Mine Work, Kamil
Kartal and Başaran Aksu were arrested.
- Karaman Ermenekli miners
have also been carrying out their demonstrations since August 2020. Like the
Soma miners, their Ankara march on 12 October 2020 was prevented by law
enforcement intervention in front of the mine.
- 25 union executives and
members, including DİSK Chairman Arzu Çerkezoğlu, who wanted to march to Taksim
on 1 May were arrested.
- DİSK Tekstil Gaziantep
Regional Representative Mehmet Türkmen was arrested in April 2020 for his
social media posts about factories forcing workers to work.
- In May 2020, a decision to
change the place of duty, in the meaning of ‘being exiled’, was issued in
respect of the railway worker Tugay Kartal who had worked for 43 years and who
was a member of the United Transport Workers Union and Haydarpaşa Solidarity
Union. However, the implementation of the decision was suspended due to the
- Makum Alagöz, President of
the Izmir branch and Headquarters manager of the Deriteks Union, which is
affiliated to Türk-İş, is being tried in 4 separate criminal trials due to the
social media posts he made about the working conditions of union members.
- Many groups from the labor
and union movements such as the Bimeks Resistance, the Independent Metal-İş,
the Real, Uygun / Makro and Uzel Resistance faced disproportionate law
enforcement interventions during their press statements and protests.
Women and LGBTI + struggles
- While the opening of the
Istanbul Convention for discussion has increased the police repression of women
and the LGBTI+ movement, the President of Religious Affairs targeted the LGBTI+
community during the Friday sermon in April 2020, as he had done before in July
2019. He targeted the LGBTI+ community and those living with HIV, as being the
cause of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The bar associations of Ankara, Diyarbakır, and İzmir,
and many non-governmental organizations reacted to the speech and made
While an investigation was initiated against the
executives of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, a criminal complaint was filed
against the executives of the Ankara Bar Association with the allegations of
“inciting the public to hatred and enmity or humiliation”,
“hatred and discrimination” as well as “defamation”.
- Dozens of people were
arrested in four separate Istanbul Convention demonstrations, held between July
and August 2020.
- ‘Las Tesis’ protests against
femicides and violence against women that had been launched in Chile, soon
spread to the whole world and also found response in Turkey. Women’s
organizations called for action in various cities to react to the murders of
women. The protest, held in Istanbul, Kadıköy, was intervened by law
enforcement officers because the lyrics of the songs constituted a criminal
act. A lawsuit was filed against the arrested activists in February 2020.
- The directors and members of
the Rosa Women’s Association, whose main field of activity is to fight against
all types of violence against women, were arrested and detained in the police
raids that started in May 2020 and were organized one after another. The
founders and board members were charged with “membership of an armed
terrorist organization”. So far, two members of the association have
received prison sentences for this charge.
- On 10 December on
International Human Rights Day, the 4th hearing of the criminal proceedings
initiated against 18 students and an academic from the Middle East Technical
University (METU) on account of their participation in the LGBTI+ Pride Parade,
held on campus on 10 May 2019, took place. The trial court postponed the trial
on the ground that the prosecutor’s opinion was not ready. The next hearing will
be held on 30 April, 2021
Environmental rights advocates
In September 2020, the Water
and Conscience Watch held in Mount Ida was forcibly dispersed and defenders
were fined hundreds of thousands of Turkish liras. This event symbolized the
repression of environmental rights and ecology advocates.
Solidarity Network for Human
Rights Defenders – Turkey
for Human Rights Defenders – Turkey is a network of human rights organizations
which insists that defending human rights is a universal right. The Network is
committed to strengthen solidarity and communication among its members and to
challenge all forms of repression and harassment against human rights defenders