US State Department cites widespread rights abuses in annual human rights report on Turkey

The US Department of State released its annual human rights report on Turkey in which it listed widespread rights violations in 2021, Turkish Minute reported.

“Under broad antiterror legislation passed in 2018, the government continued to restrict fundamental freedoms and compromised the rule of law. Since the 2016 coup attempt, authorities have dismissed or suspended tens of thousands of civil servants and government workers, including more than 60,000 police and military personnel and more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors, arrested or imprisoned more than 95,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to the movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accused of masterminding the coup attempt and designated as the leader of the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’,” the report’s executive summary said.

Turkey accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016, although the movement strongly denies any involvement in it. Turkish authorities regularly prosecute anyone with any sort of suspected link to the movement, regardless of alleged involvement in the attempted putsch.

The report listed credible reports of arbitrary killings, suspicious deaths of persons in custody, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and the continued detention of tens of thousands of persons for purported ties to “terrorist” groups or peaceful legitimate speech as being among the significant human rights issues in the country.

The State Department report also pointed to the plight of political prisoners, which include elected officials, and kidnappings and transfers without due process of alleged members of the Gülen movement.

In a joint letter UN rapporteurs accused the Turkish government of engaging in the systematic practice of state-sponsored extraterritorial abductions and forcible returns to Turkey, with at least 100 Turkish nationals from multiple states including Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Gabon, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Pakistan removed to Turkey.

In a number of cases the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that the arrest, detention and forced transfer to Turkey of Turkish nationals were arbitrary and in violation of international human rights norms and standards.

The report also cited “significant problems with judicial independence; support for Syrian opposition groups that perpetrated serious abuses in conflict, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers; severe restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, closure of media outlets, and arrests or criminal prosecution of journalists and others for criticizing government policies or officials, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly, association, and movement, including overly restrictive laws regarding government oversight of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; some cases of refoulement of refugees; serious government harassment of domestic human rights organizations; gender-based violence; crimes involving violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons” among the significant human rights issues.

In the section on “arbitrary deprivation of life,” the report cited the Baran Tursun Foundation, an organization that monitors police brutality, which said that Turkish police killed 404 individuals, among them 92 children, for disobeying stop warnings between 2007 and 2020.

Concerning allegations of enforced disappearance, the report cited human rights groups that raised the issue of Hüseyin Galip Küçüközyiğit, a former legal advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed after the 2016 coup attempt, who may have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Küçüközyiğit last contacted his family in December 2020, and his relatives believe he was abducted. Authorities denied Küçüközyiğit was in official custody; however, in September Küçüközyiğit’s daughter announced on social media that she received a telephone call from him and that he was in Sincan Prison in Ankara.

The report also cited human rights organizations which “appealed for authorities to investigate the disappearance of Yusuf Bilge Tunc, one of seven men reportedly “disappeared” by the government in 2019. 

Although six of the seven abductees surfaced in 2019 in police custody, Tunç’s whereabouts remain unknown.

“The government declined to provide information on efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts,” the report said.

The report also tackled the issue of torture and ill-treatment in custody, citing NGOs and opposition politicians who “reported that prison administrators used strip searches punitively both against prisoners and visitors, particularly in cases where the prisoner was convicted on terrorism charges.” 

The report also referred to the violent police intervention using water cannon and tear gas against the protests over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appointment of Melih Bulu as rector of Boğaziçi University in İstanbul in January 2021. 

“Police subsequently raided houses and detained 45 students in the protests. Amnesty International reported that the students alleged torture and mistreatment at the time of detention and while in custody. According to student reports, police pushed and hit them during detention. At least eight students reported forced strip searches, and two students from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community reported that police threatened them with rape with a truncheon and verbally abused them regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. Amnesty stated that at least 15 students reported mistreatment during medical examinations at a hospital following detention,” the report said.

Prison overcrowding, deaths in prison related to illness, violence or other causes and the imprisonment of at least 345 children with their mothers as of August were also highlighted in the report.

“Human rights organizations and CPT [the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture] reports asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, lighting, food, and health services. Human rights organizations also noted that prison overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions exacerbated health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic. NGOs reported that prisoners feared reporting health problems or seeking medical care, since a positive COVID-19 result would lead to a two-week quarantine in solitary confinement. The NGO Civil Society in the Penal System reported prison facilities did not allow for sufficient social distancing due to overcrowding and that prison administrators did not provide regular cleaning and disinfection services. Prisons also did not provide disinfectant, gloves, or masks to prisoners, but instead sold them at commissaries. According to a March survey of prisoners by the NGO Media and Law Studies Association conducted in five facilities, 56 percent of respondents reported not having sufficient hygienic supplies during the pandemic,” the report said.

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