US lists widespread human rights violations in Turkey in annual report

An annual human rights report from the US State Department has exposed the human rights abuses frequently faced by a wide range of people in Turkey including Kurds, Gülen movement followers, civil society members and journalists, Turkish Minute reported.

The State Department on Monday issued its 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices with an 86-page subsection on Turkey.

The annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.

According to the report, restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association and expression prior to the May 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections were a significant development during the year that negatively affected the state of human rights in Turkey.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers reported citizens were able to exercise their right to vote freely among genuine political alternatives but expressed concerns regarding media bias and restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association and expression, which created an uneven playing field and contributed to an unfair advantage for the incumbent.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who secured another term in office in the elections, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), were accused in the run-up election of further silencing the opposition, while state-run media organizations gave no or limited coverage to the election campaigns of opposition politicians.

The report listed a long list of significant human rights issues based on credible reports such as enforced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals in another country; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, censorship, or enforcement or of threat to enforce criminal libel laws to limit expression; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or the operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the territory of a state and on the right to leave the country; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face torture or persecution, including serious harms such as a threat to life or freedom or other mistreatment that would constitute a separate human rights abuse; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; extensive gender-based violence, including domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, workplace violence, child, early, and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, femicide, and other forms of such violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic groups such as refugees and Kurdish minorities; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Crackdown on Gülen movement continues

A government crackdown launched in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016 against the real and perceived members of the Gülen movement continues in various forms, with the group’s members being more likely to be subjected to mistreatment or abuse, according to the report, which, based on Turkish justice ministry data, said there were 15,539 detainees in prisons due to their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement as of July 2023.

Tens of thousands of people including the elderly, the ailing and pregnant women were arrested in Turkey following the coup attempt on terrorism charges due to their links to the Gülen movement. Some of these people were released from prison over the past years after serving their sentences, while many of them are still behind bars.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The report said the Turkish government engaged in a worldwide effort to apprehend suspected members of the Gülen movement and that there were credible reports the government exerted bilateral pressure on other countries to take adverse action against specific individuals, at times without due process.

The illegal rendition of Koray Vural, a Turkish businessman who had been living in Tajikistan for 28 years and was being sought by Turkey over his links to the Gülen movement, by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization in September made its way into the report.

Turkey’s misuse of international law enforcement tools was also covered in the US, with the Turkish government attempting to use INTERPOL Red Notices to target specific individuals located outside the country, alleging ties to terrorism based on little evidence.

Freedom House reported that following the 2016 coup attempt, the country uploaded tens of thousands of requests in INTERPOL for persons the government designated as affiliated with the Gülen movement.

There were also reports that individuals faced complications related to erroneous lost or stolen passport reports the government filed against suspected Gülen movement supporters in the years directly following the coup attempt. Targeted individuals often had no clearly identified role in the attempted coup but were associated with the Gülen movement or had spoken in favor of it. The reports to INTERPOL led to individuals’ detention or prevented them from traveling, said the US report.

The Turkish government routinely filed terrorism-related charges against individuals or publications in response to reporting on sensitive topics, particularly government efforts against the Gülen movement, among others, the report said, while possession of Gülen movement books were considered to be credible evidence of membership in a terror organization.

The Gülen movement followers accused of terrorism and their extended family members also faced travel restrictions as the Turkish government revoked the passports of thousands of people in its post-coup crackdown.

Protection of refugees

The report said Turkey continued to host approximately 3.7 million refugees and asylum seekers, 3.3 million of whom were Syrians but added that case overload created a number of economic, political, and social challenges

In response to increasing antirefugee sentiment throughout the country, the government prioritized irregular migration management – both inside and at its borders. This included increasing crackdown operations on irregular migration and deportations, preventing irregular entry at its borders without consideration for asylum claims, enforcing address verifications to ensure refugees were living at their assigned provinces, and encouraging the voluntary return of 1 million Syrians to Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria.

Following the elections in May, the government intensified combating irregular migration as part of its efforts to demonstrate it had control over its borders. From May to June, migration authorities released data indicating a 40 percent increase in the arrest of undocumented migrants. On July 9, the minister of interior pledged to “visibly curb undocumented migrants” through increased identity checks and crackdowns. In the weeks and months following the announcement, there were widespread allegations of police misconduct, including entering individual’s homes without permission to check documentation, stopping persons on the street who were perceived to look foreign in order to check their identification documents, and police arresting individuals and sending them to removal centers without due process.

Oppresion of Kurds

The report said security force efforts against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, disproportionately affected Kurdish communities, who make up more than 15 million of Turkey’s population.

Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists. There were several attacks against ethnic Kurds that human rights organizations alleged were racially motivated. Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association.

Kurds’ demand for education in their mother tongue was also ignored. Although the government officially allowed the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. The constitution prohibited any language other than Turkish to be taught “as a mother tongue.”

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