Amnesty International: Dissents being ruthlessly suppressed by Turkish gov’t in 2017

A report released by Amnesty International on Thursday reveals that critical voices and dissent were ruthlessly suppressed in Turkey in 2017 and that a state of emergency in the country served as a backdrop for rights violations. Amnesty International said human rights violations and a clampdown on freedom of expression are likely to continue in the country as long as it remains under a state of emergency.

In its annual report on global human rights, Amnesty International sheds light on the state of human rights during 2017 in 159 countries and has been scathing about Turkey, a NATO member and a candidate to join the European Union. More than 50,000 people have been arrested in a widening crackdown since a 2016 failed coup and more than 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in Turkey.

The Turkey section of the report talks about how journalists, political activists and human rights defenders were targeted due to a lack of tolerance for dissenting voices, which diminished further due to a state of emergency that was declared in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt in July 15, 2016.

The report said the state of emergency paved the way for unlawful restrictions on human rights and allowed the government to pass laws beyond the effective scrutiny of Parliament and the courts.

“Over 50,000 people were in pre-trial detention on charges linked to membership of the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’ (FETÖ), which the authorities blamed for the 2016 coup attempt. A similar number were released on bail and were subjected to reporting requirements. Only a tiny minority of them were accused of taking part in the actual events of the attempted coup,” said the report.

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

Critics say President Erdoğan is using the state of emergency, introduced in the aftermath of the failed putsch and renewed six times since to stifle dissent and crush his opponents. The anti-democratic government says its security measures are necessary given the severity of the threats faced.

“The dysfunction of civil society and the state of emergency formed a proper ground for human rights violations,” Andrew Gardner, a senior researcher on Turkey for Amnesty said at a news conference in İstanbul. “Unfortunately, it seems likely the human rights violations will continue as long as the state of emergency continues,” said Gardner, according to a report by Reuters.

Talking about the state of the judiciary in the country, the report said the judiciary, itself decimated by the dismissal or detention of up to a third of Turkey’s judges and prosecutors, remained under extreme political pressure. “Arbitrary, lengthy and punitive pre-trial detention and fair trial violations continued routinely,” said the report.

Regarding freedom of expression, the report said civil society representatives, as well as the general population, widely practiced self-censorship, deleting social media posts and refraining from making public comments for fear of dismissal from their jobs, closure of their organizations or criminal prosecution.

“Thousands of criminal prosecutions were brought, including under laws prohibiting defamation and on trumped-up terrorism related charges, based on peoples’ peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Arbitrary and punitive lengthy pre-trial detention was routinely imposed. Confidential details of investigations were frequently leaked to government-linked media and splashed across the front pages of newspapers, while government spokespeople made prejudicial statements regarding cases under investigation. Prosecutions of journalists and political activists continued, and prosecutions of human rights defenders sharply increased. International journalists and media were also targeted.”

Gardner has also said that emergency rule was being used to target journalists, as well as government critics.

The former heads of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party and several of their lawmaker colleagues are in jail on terrorism charges. The chairman of Amnesty’s local arm has been in jail since June 2017, also on terrorism charges, all of them have denied the charges. A court last week sentenced six journalist to life in prison for aiding plotters of the coup. They have denied the charges.

“Dissent was ruthlessly suppressed, with journalists, political activists and human rights defenders among those targeted,” the Amnesty report, released on Thursday, said in its assessment. “As the state of emergency continues and the fact that human rights defenders and civil society can’t carry out their work, it is very likely … human rights violations will continue,” Gardner said.

According to the report, criticism of the government in the broadcast and print media largely disappeared, with dissent mainly confined to Internet-based media. The government continued to use administrative blocking orders, against which there was no effective appeal, routinely, to censor Internet content.

The report said more than 100 journalists remained in pre-trial detention in Turkey at the end of 2017 and that journalists from media outlets closed by state of emergency decrees continued to face prosecution, conviction and imprisonment. “Former Taraf editor Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan remained in pre-trial detention following their detention in July 2016 on grounds of membership of the Gülen movement, as did 34 media workers who worked for Zaman group newspapers,” said the report.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 240 journalists and media workers are in jails as of February 22, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 205 are arrested pending trial, only 35 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey. Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

Amnesty’s report also makes mention of how eight human rights defenders including Amnesty International Turkey Director İdil Eser were held in pre-trial detention until a trial on trumped-up charges for “membership of a terrorist organization” based on their work as human rights defenders began in October, and Taner Kılıç, chair of Amnesty International Turkey, still remains in prison due to alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Regarding cases of torture and other ill treatment, the report said instances of torture and other ill treatment, especially in police custody, continued to be reported, although at a markedly lower level than in the weeks following the July 2016 coup attempt.

“The Turkish authorities continued to deny permission for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to publish its report on torture allegations following the coup attempt. There was no effective national preventive mechanism with a mandate for monitoring places of detention. There were no available statistics regarding investigations into allegations of torture. There was no evidence that allegations of torture were being effectively investigated,” the report said.

Amnesty’s report also talked about the dismissal of public sector workers for alleged unspecified links to terrorist groups, saying that nearly 20,000 workers were dismissed during the course of 2017, bringing the total number since July 2016 to 107,000.

“Many workers were effectively prevented from continuing their professions, and struggled to find other jobs after being branded “terrorists” as a result of their dismissal,” said the report.

A seven-person appeals commission to assess the dismissals, which was announced by authorities in January 2017 but was not established until July 2017, at the end of the year had ruled on fewer than 100 of the reported 100,000 appeals submitted to it, said the report. “There was widespread criticism that the Commission lacked the necessary independence and capacity to carry out the task,” added the report.(SCF with turkishminute.com)

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