Under the State of Emergency, which was declared on 20 July 2016 and prolonged 7 times every 3 months, the pressure on human rights organisations and defenders continued increasingly. Human rights defenders (HRDs) were prevented from their ordinary activities through bans, detentions, arrests, investigations and court cases which led to a narrowed field for human rights. HRDs were also dismissed from duty with governmental decrees and subjected to court cases along with legal or administrative investigations.
The increasing number of investigations and court cases were followed by violations of fair trial. Following biased investigations, the right of defence of HRDs was restricted during the trials. In most of the concluded trials the HRDs were sentenced to terms of imprisonment accordingly. Reports by human rights organisations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Joint Platform indicate that there is an increasing tendency in the numbers of investigations or court cases and convictions against the HRDs. These reports also underline the fact that the State of Emergency turned to be a permanent regime which on the one hand restricts all the fundamental rights and freedoms and on the other hand severely punishes all the persons struggling with the ongoing oppression.
The annual 2017 human rights report of HRA also gives detailed information on how the reception of the government of human rights changed and pins the fact of “single person regime” in Turkey on top of its findings. The report also includes numerous instances of violations or practices of pressures which HRDs faced in Turkey recently. Especially the pressure on opposition groups increasingly continued for the term under consideration.
Where the field of human rights was narrowed day by day, HRA members and executives, unsurprisingly, bear the brunt of pressure. Following the declaration of State of Emergency, at least 93 HRA members and executives were dismissed from duty through governmental decrees or administrative decrees. [See attached table for details] Hundreds of investigations were initiated and court cases were launched. The total number of investigations and court cases against the HRA members and executives reached 225. HRA Co-Chairs and members of central executive committee are facing 18 trials. [See attached list for details] These numbers exclude 143 court cases launched against HRA Co-Chair Eren Keskin.
The most important case against HRA was launched following the investigation initiated after the complaint by the Chief of General Staff to the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry initiated an administrative, financial and operational inspection against the Human Rights Association. The inspection was carried out by the inspectors of the Ministry of Interior between 27.06.2016 and 21.09.2016. The Audit Report was released on 20.06.2017. In the audit report, inspectors requested the authorities to sue the HRA and its branches alleging that the published reports, statements of HRA as well as decisions taken by the General Assembly of the HRA would violate the Articles 301 and 302 of the Turkish Penal Code and the Article 7(2) of the Anti-Terror Law. Upon this request, an investigation was launched against the Chair Öztürk Türkdoğan and 40 members of the HRA by Ankara Press Office of Chief Public Prosecutor Office. Another investigation, with the file number 2016/15529, conducted by the same Office against Öztürk Türkdoğan and chairs of other institutions who were involved in fact finding and reporting in relation to curfews in the Southeastern provinces.
In order to re-establish a democratic society and the rule law in accordance with the universal human rights, Turkey has to take urgent measures. The steps to be taken are simple and obvious. And all the actors have their own part to contribute to the human rights struggle in Turkey.
Recommendations for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Restoration of Human Rights Field
Turkey has to take necessary steps for the effective implementation of UN Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
All the HRDs who are either under pre-trial detention or under arrest in connection with their human rights activities have to be released.
The official and non-official actors who do put pressure on HRDs through either investigations and court cases or threats and terrorisation have to be determined, investigated and prosecuted. The policy of impunity has to come to an end, eventually.
All the legal proceedings concerning organisational activities within the security forces, intelligence services, and judiciary have to be readdressed. If there is any conspiracies concerning these proceedings, they have to be unveiled.
International organisations have to monitor and follow the investigations and court cases against HRDs and make them visible for the international community. Human rights organisations in Turkey also need their contribution to organisational development.
Trust to judiciary in Turkey decreased dramatically in recent years. The judiciary has to be re-organised in accordance with the rule of law in order to re-gain the trust of people. Accordingly, all the specially authorised heavy penal courts have to closed down, all the specially authorised prosecutor positions have to be repealed.
One of the most burning problems of Turkey is still the subjective definition and interpretations of terror and terrorism. Terror related offences have to re-defined in line with the UN Security Council resolutions. There should be a legal distinction between violent and non-violent activities, the body of current law should be amended duly. The government should not interfere the judiciary in categorising non-violent activities under terror related offences.
Freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful demonstration and freedom of association should be secured in line with the international conventions.
Turkey should invite and allow UN special rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, on Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, on Minority Issues to visit and follow the recommendations in their reports by making necessary legal amendments
Above all, State of Emergency should be lifted immediately and unjust practices be ended.