Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s centralized presidential government has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual review of human rights.
According to the report, which was published on Thursday, Erdoğan’s government continued targeting perceived government critics and political opponents, profoundly undermining the independence of the judiciary and hollowing out democratic institutions.
The HRW report criticized the continued imprisonment of philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala, despite a binding judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in December 2019 finding that his detention for allegedly directing and financing the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and for alleged involvement in a failed coup in July 2016 was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender.
It also criticized the continued imprisonment of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been behind bars since 2016 despite an ECtHR ruling in November 2018 that Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention was political and ordering his release. Turkish courts refused to implement the ruling, and a regional appeals court in Turkey subsequently upheld a prison sentence handed down to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda.
Moreover, Turkey experienced major reversals for women’s rights as it withdrew from the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, on March 10.
The government continued tightening restrictions on social media last year by making “disinformation” via social media an offense punishable by a prison sentence of between two and five years. The report emphasized that thousands of people every year already face arrest and prosecution for their social media posts, typically charged with defamation, insulting the president or spreading terrorist propaganda.
Despite rising allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police custody and in prisons, prosecutors have made little progress in investigating these allegations in 2021.
A female inmate who claimed prison guards beat and sexually harassed her was found dead in her cell in December.
Two Iranian smugglers were allegedly subjected to abuse and torture at an army post on the Iranian border in the Turkish province of Van in April.
Students who were detained during the Boğaziçi University protests last year also claimed they were tortured, insulted and mistreated by the police.
Turkish authorities have failed to properly investigate abductions and enforced disappearances. Nearly 30 people have reportedly been abducted by Turkish intelligence since 2016. Most of the abductions targeted members of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey deems the movement a terrorist organization responsible of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, a former civil servant, disappeared in Ankara on December 29, 2020. On July 14, authorities informed his family that he was being held in pretrial detention.
Yusuf Bilge Tunç, a former bureaucrat who disappeared in Ankara on August 6, 2019, is still missing.
According to the report, Turkish authorities are also responsible for extraditing members of the movement from countries around the world, often bypassing legal procedures while doing so.
Two such cases in 2021 were the abduction on May 31 and rendition to Turkey from Kyrgyzstan of Orhan İnandı, a director of schools in Kyrgyzstan; and Turkey’s announcement on May 31 that it had “captured” and transferred to Turkey Selahaddin Gülen, a Turkish national and registered asylum seeker in Kenya.
In his first court hearing İnandı said he was subjected to torture for 37 days and broke into tears as he recalled the details for an hour and a half.
In the last year hate speech and crimes towards migrants have substantially increased. There have been signs of a rise in racist and xenophobic attacks on foreigners. On August 10 groups of youths attacked workplaces and homes of Syrians in a neighborhood in Ankara a day after a fight during which a Syrian youth allegedly stabbed two Turkish youths, killing one.
Opposition politicians have made speeches that fuel anti-refugee sentiment and suggest that Syrians should be returned to war-torn Syria.
Additionally, Turkey continued building a wall in 2021 along its eastern border with Iran and summarily pushing back Afghans and others apprehended attempting to cross the border.