Update to the İHD Report on Human Rights Advocacy and Repressive Policies against İHD


Updated Report on Human Rights Advocacy and Repressive Policies against İHD

(Info Note)*

6 July 2022


In the last decade in Turkey, three turning points have had a dramatic effect on a climate that has been restricting rights and freedoms through various means of repression increasing its intensity day by day and imposing itself on all social groups. The first of these was the İstanbul Taksim Gezi Park Protests[1] that started on 28 May 2013. These protests, which were not affiliated with any political party or structure and developed spontaneously, were a collection of protests that reflected on the streets the totality of all kinds of victimization arising from the past of all social groups that were ignored, whose freedoms were restricted, whose right to life was interfered with, and who were sensitive to their city and environmental issues. Social reactions have emerged as a product of a common response against the interventions of the state and political powers against human dignity for years. In the aftermath of the Gezi Park Protests, which lasted for nearly 3 months, the government imposed restrictions on the exercise of many rights, especially the freedom of peaceful assembly and protest. The government’s attempt to pin all responsibility on the protesters by labeling the protests as a “coup attempt” resulted in the lawsuit known as the “Gezi Trial” which has no legal basis whatsoever. As in other cases related to the Gezi Park Protests, many civil society organizations, including human rights organizations, were targeted directly or indirectly in this trial as well.

As a result of the changes in social dynamics following the Gezi Park Protests, the coalition governing Turkey sustained a setback in the general elections held on 7 June 2015, however, another process that would result in reelections began. Thus, the public was faced with the reality that the results of the elections could be ignored by those in government, and the path to the second turning point, an important threshold in Turkey’s political and democratic life, was opened up. On 24 July 2015, the process that had begun in 2013 to resolve Turkey’s most important problem, the “Kurdish Issue”, through democratic means came to an end. The restart of the conflict marks the second breaking point. The consequences of the collapse of the peace process have been quite devastating, especially during the curfews, gross human rights violations were committed, and these were documented by different human rights organizations. Following the public disclosure of the reports drafted by these NGOs, President Erdoğan, in his speech on 7 April 2016 on the occasion of the 171st anniversary of the establishment of the police organization, targeted human rights organizations saying: “Those who published these reports should be given a hard time. What reports are you publishing?”[2]

During this process, however, Turkey reached a third turning point: The 15 July 2016 attempted coup d’état. The state of emergency (SoE) declared immediately afterwards turned into a very useful tool in the hands of the political power against civil society organizations. With the constitutional referendum held on 16 April 2017, the de facto start of a new order of government led to an authoritarian one-man regime, the principle of separation of powers was suspended, while checks and balances were rendered dysfunctional. Although the state of emergency was lifted on 19 July 2018, the Law No. 7145 on the Amendment of Some Laws and Decree Laws made the SoE permanent. In March 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey began to be governed by prohibition measures under the name of various administrative measures.

Turkey is moving further and further away from the rule of law, particularly with the presidential system of government. In this system, the constitutional structure centralizes powers at the presidential level without ensuring a strong and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The targeting of opposition parties has continued, including the Constitutional Court’s acceptance of the indictment of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation to dissolve the second largest opposition party in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), contributing to the weakening of political pluralism.[3]  Moreover, judicial independence remains only an article of the Constitution in this system. In addition to the erosion of the independence of judges and the steps directly affecting their independence, such as dismissal and recruitment outside the guarantees provided for them, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in its many judgments on Turkey points to the increasing bias of the judiciary towards political interests.[4]

In a system of government so far removed from universal law and human rights, the freedoms of expression and association, as well as the right to assembly, are restricted in violation of Turkey’s own Constitution and international conventions and covenants to which Turkey is a party, and these rights are granted only to individuals or institutions deemed “reasonable” by the government. The freedom of expression of opposition politicians, journalists, rights defenders, and anyone who criticizes government policies is under constant attack, and those who wish to exercise this freedom are prosecuted for various reasons. As freedom of expression is curtailed, freedom of association is also severely restricted, creating an environment in which the expression of dissenting views is rendered ineffective.

The most challenging problem facing human rights defenders in Turkey is the pervasive pattern of judicial proceedings and criminal cases targeting them for their lawful and legitimate activities. Prosecutors in Turkey do not hesitate to bring baseless criminal charges against human rights defenders for their legitimate activities. Cases involving human rights defenders demonstrate a “worrying pattern of silencing people whose work legitimately calls into question the views and policies of the Government.”[5] In Turkey, the government uses the Anti-Terror Code No. 3713 (ATC) to restrict freedoms and rights partially or fully and to suppress the voices of human rights defenders. The ATC contains vague and overly broad definitions of terrorism and terrorist offenses, which pose a serious threat to freedoms of assembly, expression and opinion.[6] Most recently, in the trial of prominent civil society figure Osman Kavala and seven other human rights defenders brought on charges of organizing and financing the Gezi protests in 2013, Mr. Kavala was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the government” and seven defendants were sentenced to 18 years in prison for aiding the commission of the crime and were imprisoned.[7]

Turkey’s refusal to implement ECtHR judgments, particularly in the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, has further raised concerns about the judiciary’s adherence to international and European standards. Turkey’s withdrawal from the İstanbul Convention has also called into question its commitment to such standards.[8] The European Parliament’s Rapporteur on Turkey, Nacho Sanchez-Amor, in his report adopted by the European Parliament on 7 June 2022, stated that the Turkish government was deliberately making efforts to restart the EU accession process impossible by blatantly defying the ECtHR’s final judgments.[9]

*This info note updates İHD’s special report on “Human Rights Advocacy and Repressive Policies against İHD” published on 13 April 2020. For further info, see: <https://ihd.org.tr/en/ihd-special-report-on-human-rights-advocacy-and-repressive-policies-against-ihd/>

[1] For further info, see: “Report on Incidents during the Gezi Park Resistance.” 2013, <https://ihd.org.tr/en/report-on-incidents-during-the-gezi-park-resistance-27-may-2013-10-july-2013/>

[2] Bianet. “Erdoğan’dan STK’lara: Sen Neyin Raporunu Yayınlıyorsun?” 7 April 2016. <https://bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/173711-erdogan-dan-stk-lara-sen-neyin-raporunu-yayinliyorsun>

[3] European Commission, “2021 Turkey Report.” 19 October 2021. <https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/turkey-report-2021_en> p. 3.

[4] MIJATOVIC, Dunja, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. “Report Following Her Visit to Turkey from 1 to 5 July 2019.” 19 February 2020. <https://rm.coe.int/report-on-the-visit-to-turkey-by-dunja-mijatovic-council-of-europe-com/168099823e> p. 4.

[5] MIJATOVIC, Dunja, ibid. p.35.

[6] For further info, see:  TÜRKDOĞAN, Öztürk. “Human Rights Defenders in An Iron Cage: The Anti-Terrorism Law in Turkey.” 2022. <https://ihd.org.tr/en/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/OzturkTurkdogan_ATL-Report_OMCT_EN.pdf >

[7] Human Rights Watch. “Turkey: Life Sentence for Rights Defender Osman Kavala.” 26 April 2022. <https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/26/turkey-life-sentence-rights-defender-osman-kavala>

[8] European Commission, “2021 Turkey Report.” 19 October 2021. <https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/turkey-report-2021_en> p. 5.

[9] European Parliament. “Turkey: Persistently Further from EU Values and Standards.” 7 June 2022. <https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20220603IPR32136/turkey-persistently-further-from-eu-values-and-standards>


To read the full info note in English click: Update to Repression against İHD Report_July 2022