Rule of Law(lessness) in Erdoğan’s Turkey

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This report focuses on how the criminal prosecutions and trials conducted on charges of terrorism since a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 are devoid of any legal grounds.

The principle of “legality” and “no punishment without law” aim at clearly ascertaining the conduct that constitutes a crime prior to its commission so that an individual knows which acts and omissions will make him criminally liable. Yet, in an attempt to demonstrate the connection of individuals to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, Turkish judicial authorities have been using daily activities involving the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights as evidence of terrorist activity. These include having an account at a certain bank, sending children to private schools affiliated with the movement and using a specific messaging app.

“As confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights in its cases, this principle is an essential component of the rule of law that may not be derogated from even in times of emergency under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said Dr. Merve R. Kayıkcı, research director at the Stockholm Center for Freedom. “Unfortunately criminal prosecutions and trials in Turkey have been carried out in violation of this principle since 2016.”

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there has been a sharp increase in the use of so-called ‘terrorism’ charges under Article 314 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) in the aftermath of the coup attempt. While 8,416 charges were filed under Article 314 in 2013, the number soared to 146,731 in 2017, 115,753 in 2018, 54,464 in 2019 and 33,885 in 2020. More than 265,000 individuals were sentenced under the same article between 2016 and 2020.

The report discusses the legal elements required for the existence of an “armed terrorist organization” under Turkish law. It then considers the legal components for the existence of a membership relation between an individual and an armed terrorist organization. The report further elaborates on how the principle of legality and no punishment without law is violated in the post-2016 coup attempt trials.

“Turkey has the highest incarceration rate among the Council of Europe countries due to the unlawful criminal proceedings and trials. While the number of people who were put behind bars has dramatically increased, there has been a record rise in the number of prisons constructed in recent years in a sign of the Turkish government’s plans to continue its crackdown on critical groups in the country,” Dr. Kayıkcı said.

About the Stockholm Center for Freedom

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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