Amnesty says Turkish government’s crackdown on dissidents in Turkey continued in 2019

The government’s crackdown on dissidents in Turkey continued in 2019, despite the end of a two-year-long state of emergency in July 2018, Amnesty International (AI) said in its annual report.

According to the human rights group, “[t]he crackdown on real or perceived dissent continued in 2019, despite the end of the two-year-long state of emergency in July 2018. Thousands of people were held in lengthy and punitive pre-trial detention, often without any credible evidence of their having committed any crime recognizable under international law. There were severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and people considered critical of the current government – in particular journalists, political activists and human rights defenders – were detained or faced trumped-up criminal charges. The authorities continued to arbitrarily ban demonstrations and use unnecessary and excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors. There were credible reports of torture and enforced disappearances. Turkey forcibly returned Syrian refugees, while continuing to host more refugees than any other country.”

“Criminal investigations and prosecutions under anti-terrorism laws and punitive pre-trial detention continued to be used, in the absence of evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, to silence real or perceived dissent,” the report said.

“Dozens of journalists and other media workers remained in prison either in pre-trial detention or serving a custodial sentence. Some of those investigated and prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws were convicted and sentenced to years of imprisonment; their peaceful journalistic work presented as evidence of a criminal offence,” according to AI.

“Dozens of human rights defenders faced criminal investigations and prosecutions and were held in police custody or imprisoned for their human rights work,” the rights group said.

“Blanket bans on all assemblies were issued in various cities across the country without any individual assessment of the need and proportionality of such measures,” according to the report.

“More than 115,000 of the 129,411 public sector workers – including academics, soldiers, police officers, teachers and doctors – arbitrarily dismissed by emergency decree following the 2016 coup attempt remained barred from working in the public sector and were denied passports,” Amnesty reported.

AI also said, “[l]awyers reported that some of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials detained in Ankara Security Directorate in May accused of ‘membership of a terrorist organization, aggravated fraud and forgery for terrorism purposes’, were stripped naked and threatened with being raped with batons.”

“Six men, accused of links with the Fethullah Gülen movement who went missing in February, suspected of having been the victims of enforced disappearance, resurfaced in police detention five to nine months after their disappearance. The authorities did not provide any information to the public or the families of the men about the circumstances surrounding their disappearance or how five came to find themselves in the Anti-Terrorism Branch of the Ankara Police Headquarters and one in the Antalya Police Headquarters months after their disappearance. The six men were reported by their families to have lost weight, be very pale and nervous. The men reportedly did not disclose what had happened to them during the months they were disappeared. Following up to 12 days in police custody, they were all remanded in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges following court hearings without the knowledge of their lawyers or families.

“The fate and whereabouts of a seventh man, Yusuf Bilge Tunç, who disappeared in August under similar suspicious circumstances remained unknown at the end of the year.”

According to Amnesty International, Turkey continued to host more refugees and asylum-seekers than any other country, with over 3.6 million refugees from Syria and about 400,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries.

Yet, the rights group added, “[i]n 2019, however, Syrians refugees faced increased difficulties in the context of deepening political polarization and a worsening economic outlook in the country, contributing to growing public criticism and intolerance towards the Syrian population.”

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