Human rights in Turkey: 2021 in review

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This report highlights the most important developments in the area of human rights in Turkey during the year 2021. Increasing pressure on the Kurdish political movement, the crackdown on the Gülen movement, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long arm reaching tens of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad, the arrest of journalists and deteriorating press freedom, the spread of hate speech and hate crimes targeting ethnic and religious minorities and refugees, systematic torture and ill-treatment and an increase in rights violations against women were the defining topics of the year.

Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis over the past eight years. President Erdoğan’s one-man-rule knows no limits regardless of the consequences for the country. With the aim of consolidating his power, President Erdoğan has been systematically undermining the fundamental pillars of Turkey’s already imperfect democracy. These include amendments to the constitution that increased the power of the presidency and fundamentally eroded checks and balances on the executive, erosion of the rule of law and increased executive control over the judiciary. In 2021 his government took further dangerous measures to undermine the rule of law and target perceived critics and political opponents.

Political and civil rights in the country have deteriorated so dramatically under President Erdoğan that according to Freedom House Turkey remains “not free” with a score of 32/100, in the same category as Russia, China and Iran. The rights group’s report on global transnational repression also revealed how Turkey has become number one among countries that have conducted renditions from host states since 2014.

According to 2021 statistics announced by Robert Spano, president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Turkey ranks second after Russia, with 15,250 applications pending at the ECtHR, with two-thirds of them concerning alleged violations in arrests and trials related to a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. As in the previous year, Turkey ranked first among the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) member states in the number of judgments from the ECtHR concerning violations of freedom of expression in 2021.

In its 2021 Report on Turkey the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, said backsliding in the respect for democracy, human and fundamental rights and the Turkish judicial system continued. The Turkish parliament lacked the necessary means to hold the government accountable, and Turkey’s constitutional architecture continued to centralize powers at the level of the presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers, the EU report stated.

According to human rights watchdogs, Turkish courts systematically accept bogus indictments, detain and convict without compelling evidence of criminal activity individuals and groups the Erdoğan government regards as political opponents. Among these are journalists, opposition politicians, activists and human rights defenders.

On March 20, 2021 President Erdoğan issued a decree suddenly withdrawing Turkey from the CoE’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women’s rights and prevent domestic violence in societies, despite high statistics of violence targeting women in the country.

The move came two days after the chief prosecutor of Turkey’s top appeals court announced he was opening a case to close down the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), only hours after the Turkish parliament improperly expelled HDP deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a leading human rights advocate who has shone a light on controversial topics including torture and prison strip-searches.

SCF is a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and human rights with a special focus on Turkey.

Committed to serving as a reference source by providing a broad perspective on rights violations in Turkey, SCF monitors daily developments, documents individual cases of the infringement of fundamental rights and publishes comprehensive reports on human rights issues.

SCF is a member of the Alliance Against Genocide, an international coalition working to exert pressure on the UN, regional organizations and national governments to act on early warning signs and take action to prevent genocide.

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