Report: Capacity of Turkish civil society to deal with abuses in the country weakening

Front Line Defenders has stated in its annual report published on January 22, 2018 that “Following waves of arrest, human rights defenders, journalists and academics continued to leave Turkey, significantly weakening the capacity of civil society to deal with the abuses taking place and to pursue justice for those affected.”

As an international human rights organisation Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk (HRDs), people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Front Line Defenders addresses the protection needs identified by HRDs themselves.

Front Line Defenders has stated in its “Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2017” that the repression against civil society that intensified after the 2016 failed coup d’état, continued in 2017 in Turkey. The report underlined that “Through the wide-ranging use of state of emergency laws, the authorities significantly restricted rights to freedom of expression, media, assembly, and association, and targeted those engaged in human rights work.”

Saying that more than 300 NGOs were shut down and many defenders were imprisoned, lost their jobs or faced investigation, the report added that “In July (2017), eight HRDs from well known Turkish NGOs and two international trainers were arrested during a holistic protection training and charged with assistance to a terrorist organisation, marking yet another escalation of the clampdown.”

“While in detention, a smear campaign in pro-government media outlets alleged that the HRDs were involved in a plot against Turkish interests. After more than three months in pre-trial detention, they were released pending trial. This case illustrated the absurdity of President Erdoğan’s purge against Turkish civil society, given that all the HRDs were well known internationally for their decades-long and non-partisan work in support of human rights,” said the report.

Underlining the fact that while HRDs of all types were targeted, the main targets of repression in 2017 were lawyers, the report said “Approximatively 400 lawyers were sent to prison and almost a thousand others were placed under investigation.”

According to a report by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative titled “The Rights to Defense and Fair Trial Under Turkey’s Emergency Rule,” Turkish government has prosecuted at least 1,506 lawyers, jailed 572 of them and sentenced at least 80 lawyers to long period of imprisonment as of Feb. 1, 2018 over mostly their alleged links to the Gülen movement since the controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

“Turkey remained the top jailer of journalists in the world with 158 media personnel imprisoned, according to the Journalists’ Union of Turkey,” said the report by Front Line Defenders and concluded that “Following waves of arrest, HRDs, journalists and academics continued to leave Turkey, significantly weakening the capacity of civil society to deal with the abuses taking place and to pursue justice for those affected.”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 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.

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