US: Turkey regularly invoked terrorism law to criminalize exercise of human rights in 2019

In its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2019” released yesterday, the US State Department said Turkey has a broad definition of terrorism and that the government regularly invoked the terrorism law to criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and other human rights.

As an example of how broadly the terrorism law has been used, the report cited Turkish Ministry of Interior data on the referral of more than 10,000 social media accounts to judicial authorities for alleged terrorism-related propaganda in the first quarter of 2019 alone.

The annual report details key developments in the global fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al Qaeda, Iranian proxies and other international terrorist groups.

Similar to previous years, the report states that the United States does not consider the faith-based Gülen movement inspired by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen a terrorist organization, noting that the movement was labeled as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (“FETÖ”) by the Turkish government in the aftermath of a July 2016 coup attempt.

According to a Turkish Ministry of Justice memorandum submitted to the Council of Europe, however, the Gülen movement was officially recognized as a terrorist organization by the country’s judicial system prior to the coup attempt with a decision rendered by the Erzincan High Criminal Court on June 16, 2016. The government had already declared the movement a terrorist organization at a National Security Council (MGK) meeting on May 26, 2016.

The report underlines that Turkish citizens and foreign residents, including US citizens and locally employed staff of US missions, were detained and arrested on charges of alleged links to “FETÖ” based on scant evidence and minimal due process. On June 11, 2020 an Istanbul court sentenced US Consulate General staff member Metin Topuz to eight years, nine months in prison for aiding and abetting “FETÖ”. Topuz’s arrest sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara, prompting Washington to suspend all non-immigrant visa services at diplomatic missions in Turkey, which was immediately followed by the Turkish Embassy in Washington suspending visa applications from the US in October 2017.

Hamza Uluçay, a translator for the US Consulate in the Mediterranean city of Adana, was also convicted of aiding and abetting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and released on January 30, 2019, after two years of imprisonment. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

Draconian measures taken by the Turkish government under the pretext of fighting against “FETÖ” were also mentioned in the report: “The government continued to dismiss military, security, and civil servants from public office in 2019. Since the 2016 failed coup attempt, the government has dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants and members of the armed forces from public office, arrested or imprisoned more than 80,000 citizens, and closed more than 1,500 NGOs for alleged “FETÖ” links.”

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