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human rights

The noose | Ilmik

Α documentary about the press freedom and the human rights in Turkey.

A film by Thomas Sideris.

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Turkey Must Ensure Freedom of Religion under Its Jurisdiction

Introduction

Especially in the recent years, the Turkish government has been known with its arbitrary interferences with human rights and fundamental freedoms. After the corruption investigations that were launched at the end of 2013, the government started targeting the Hizmet Movement (a.k.a. Gulen Movement) claiming that the group was behind the investigations. The corruption case was about members of the ruling party and their family members including sons of cabinet ministers. Even more, the case was allegedly reaching out to then prime-minister Erdogan and his son. The situation got even worsened after the so-called attempted coup happened in July 15, 2016. Erdogan, now the president, has been accusing the Movement of masterminding the coup attempt, whereas the Movement has been strongly denying their involvement. The state of emergency was declared to weather the storm; however, it was then transformed to a tool to justify the government’s strict measures. Main group attacked has been the Hizmet Movement, nonetheless, many people from other dissident groups have also been suffering from the government’s applications. Excessive number of people belonging to dissident groups have either been arrested, imprisoned, faced torture during imprisonment or dismissed from their jobs. There have also been other examples of human rights violations such as asset seizure, passport cancellations and psychological pressure. Not only real persons but also legal entities founded by dissidents were also targeted and shut down by decree laws adopted without parliamentary and judicial oversight during the state of emergency.

Different religious communities also took their shares from the government’s arbitrary implementations. This paper will talk about the different types of discriminatory practices religious groups have been facing in Turkey recently. It will be evaluated whether freedom of religion and belief is respected at the level required the internationally accepted standards. Therefore, for the purpose of this paper different statements from government officials as well as the government’s actions targeting religious groups will be mentioned below.

Freedom of Religion in Turkey

Turkey has been a secular country since 1928 when the provision indicating the state’s religion as Islam was removed as an amendment to the 1924 Constitution. Since then secularism has been one of the core principles enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. The Constitution of 1982, which is in force now, refers to secularism as well and regulates the freedom of religion and conscience. According to Article 24 (1) & (2) of the 1982 Constitution “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction. Acts of worship, religious rites and ceremonies shall be conducted freely, as long as they do not violate the provisions of Article 14.” The Constitution also prohibits any form of discrimination including on the ground of religion.

Freedom of religion is also protected under international human rights law documents binding on Turkey which are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter “ICCPR”) and the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “ECHR”). Both ICCPR Article 18 and ECHR Article 9 stipulate freedom of religion and belief as well as include manifestation of his/her religion and belief to the scope. Moreover, the ICCPR specifies Article 18 as non-derogable in Article 4, meaning that even during the state of emergency going on in the country, the government must respect freedom of religion and belief and cannot derogate from its responsibilities. Therefore, Turkey is obligated to ensure that freedom of religion is respected at all levels under its jurisdiction. However, Turkey’s record in terms of religious freedom has not been much praiseworthy. Since its foundation, Turkey has been somehow restricting freedom of religion and belief. Only three groups are recognized officially as minorities which are Greeks, Armenians and Jews. This means all Muslim communities and other non-Muslim groups are not protected specially. This situation itself actually creates inequality between the groups, even though the Constitution promotes for equality.

Anatolia, thus Turkey, has been hosting very different cultures and it is known to be a diverse land for a long time. First and foremost, Alevis are the main group facing discrimination in Turkey. Their places of worships, Cemevis (Cem houses), have been forcefully shut down by the government and are not accepted officially as places of worship. There were even attempts to transform them into mosques. The recognition of minority’s rights and status, such as the right to establish their own institutions, worship places and freely express and practice their faith openly in public, is a problem that has not been addressed since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Even though Alevis are the second-largest group of Muslims after Sunni Muslims, they have been having these crucial problems regarding recognition for a long time.

Alevis are also targeted by public officials and society. For instance, Mehmet Gormez, former President of the Directorate of Religious Affairs which is an official state institution, has explicitly said they have had two red lines which are not to classify Alevism as different than regular understanding of Islam and not to accept Cemevis as an alternative worship place to mosques. Alevis have been attacked by the society as well. Short time ago, houses of Alevi citizens in Malatya were marked with crosses in red color by unknown people for intimidation.

Problems of Alevis were also brought before the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “ECtHR”) many times. In a recent case, Izzettin Dogan and Others v. Turkey, the Court decided that Turkey has not been protecting the applicant’s right to manifest their religion properly by not providing them religious services in the form of public service, not granting Cemevis the status of “places of worship,” not recruiting their religious leaders as civil servants and lastly by not providing them funding as part of the Directorate of Religious Affairs’s budget. In the light of these, the ECtHR decided on the violation of Article 9 and Article 14.

Since 2013, especially after the coup attempt in July 2016, the Hizmet Movement, a movement that is mainly inspired by a religious cleric Fethullah Gulen, became a target of the Turkish government for religious persecution and marginalization. Ironically, Fethullah Gulen advocates Sunni-Hanafi-Maturidi Islamic tradition, which symbolizes the belief system of the majority in Turkey. In fact, Fethullah Gulen is a retired cleric who worked for the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Turkey for his whole life. However, in the aftermath of the coup attempt, the Turkish government acknowledges no ethical boundaries at all and declares the Hizmet Movement as ‘Firak-i Dalle” (perverted faith) through the propaganda of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This term has been frequently used against the Movement and has caused social pressure leading to more discrimination in social life. The Ministry of Religious Affairs consistently publishes sermons constituting verbal harassments towards the Movement every Friday to be read in every mosque during Friday prayers which is, according to Islam not to the state law, obligatory for all Muslim men to attend. Therefore, those statements are heard by majority of the public attending Friday prayers. Mehmet Gormez once said following the “Extraordinary Religious Council” that attributes imputed to the Movement and Mr. Gulen cannot be reconciled with Islam. These indeed prove that the Directorate of Religious Affairs, together with the government, targets the Movement specifically because of their relationship with Mr. Gulen. In today’s Turkey, admiring Mr. Gulen, reading his books and listening to his sermons are considered as actions of crime and people who revere him are labeled as terrorists. Therefore, individuals are not free to choose which understanding of Islam or which Islamic scholar to follow.

Together with these, other beliefs such as Atheism, Shia Islam and different branches of Christianity suffer from discrimination on religious grounds and cannot be considered as free in terms of freedom of religion and conscience under human rights law.

Evaluation

Considering all different types of persecutions religious communities have been suffering, one cannot say that Turkey is complying with its responsibilities under the 1982 Constitution, the ICCPR as well as the ECHR. If the country is secular, then it must be equidistant from all types of beliefs. As the Advocates of Silenced Turkey, we would like to remind the Turkish government that it is obligated to ensure freedom of religion under its jurisdiction and also that it must align its domestic law and practices with internationally accepted human rights standards.


Download as a PDF File: AST_2-20-18_Freedom of Religion_P12

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At Least 3 Victims Of Erdoğan’s Persecution Targeting Gülen Movement Drowned As Trying To Cross River Between Turkey And Greece

At least three victims of the massive post-coup persecution of Turkish government, led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, targeting the alleged members of the Gülen movement, have reportedly drowned on Tuesday morning as they were trying to cross the Meriç/Evros river between Turkey and Greece.

Eight Turkish citizens, including 3 children, 2 women and 3 man, have been missed after their rubber boat capsized in Meriç/Evros river on the border between Turkey and Greece on Tuesday. The bodies of the two drowned brothers, estimated to be aged around 11 and 3, and their mother were discovered.

The names of the victims are 37-year-old Ayşe (Söyler) Abdurrezzak from Havran district of Balıkesir province, her sons 3-year-old Halil Münir Abdurrezzak, who was born in Maltepe district of İstanbul and 11-year-old Abdul Kadir Enes Abdurrezzak.

It was learned that contact with the 8 people has been lost at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning as they were trying to fled from Turkey to Greece via Meriç/Evros river. Uğur Abdurrezzak, the bodies of his wife and his children were found, is still missing.

Ayşe Söyler Abdurrezzak, who was graduated from Turkish Language Department of İstanbul’s Marmara University in 2005 and used to work as a teacher. She and her teacher husband were dismissed by a government decree under the rule of emergency as they were working at a school in Kartepe district of Kocaeli province in the wake of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

It was also learned that Doğan Family was accompanying the Abdurrezzak Family on the rubber boat as they were crossing the Meriç/Evros river and the members of the family, Fahreddin Doğan, his wife Aslı Doğan and the couple’s 2,5-year-old son İbrahim Selim Doğan are still missing.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) has reported previously that the emergency services are searching for up to 10 migrants reported missing after a boat capsized in a river that flows along the Turkish-Greek border. According to the report, the emergency services were alerted on Tuesday by border guards who heard cries for help from the river, known as Meriç in Turkish and Evros in Greek.

The report said between eight and 10 migrants, including women and children, were trying to cross into Greece aboard the rubber boat, which was found punctured.

Thousands of refugees and migrants enter Greece every year from Turkey on their way to Europe. Most choose the sea crossing in flimsy smuggling boats to the eastern Aegean islands. However, Evros has also been used for passage from Turkey to Greece.

In recent years, beside of refugees from other countries using Turkey as a transit route, some Turkish citizens who had to fled Turkey due to a massive witch-hunt launched by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government against sympathizers of the Gülen movement in the wake of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, have also used the same route. Many tried to escape Turkey via illegal ways as the government canceled their passports like thousands of others.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Source:
https://stockholmcf.org/two-child-migrants-die-others-reported-missing-during-river-crossing-between-turkey-and-greece/

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U.N. elects Turkey to oversee human rights activists, VP of Committee on NGOs

The Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch condemned the U.N. election of Turkey as Vice-Chair of the committee that accredits and oversees the work of non-governmental human rights groups at the world body, noting that the Erdogan regime arrests, jails and persecutes human rights activists, journalists and students.

“Electing Turkey’s Erdogan regime to oversee the work of human rights activists at the U.N. is like picking the fox to guard the henhouse, as he is still wiping the feathers off his mouth from his last meal,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

“This election is absurd, and casts a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations as a whole,” said Neuer.

The diplomat elected on January 29th to represent the Erdogan regime on the committee was Ceren Hande Özgür.

“It underscores the degree to which this vital committee—which has the power to suspend the U.N. credentials of human rights groups—has been hijacked by the world’s worst dictatorships.”

    Despite its U.N. election today, Turkey is notorious for persecuting NGO activists, as documented by Freedom House:

  • Since the attempted coup in 2016, 1,500 civil society organizations have been summarily closed and their property confiscated. Targeted groups worked on torture, domestic violence, and aid to refugees and internally displaced persons.
  • In 2017, Turkey arrested a number of leading human rights activists on terrorism charges. Osman Kavala, the country’s most prominent civil society leader, was detained in October and charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
  • In June 2017, the chair of Amnesty International’s Turkey branch was arrested on terrorism charges.
  • In July, a raid on a routine training session for human rights defenders resulted in the arrest of eight representatives from Turkey’s major rights organizations, along with two foreign trainers. They were eventually released pending trial.
  • Journalists are prosecuted, and media outlets closed.
  • Authorities routinely disallow gatherings by government critics on security grounds, while pro-government rallies are allowed to proceed.
  • Restrictions were imposed on May Day celebrations by leftist and labor groups, LGBT events, protests by purge victims, and opposition party meetings. Police use force to break up unapproved protests.

Source:
https://www.unwatch.org/u-n-elects-turkey-oversee-human-rights-activists-vp-committee-ngos/

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Severity of Human Rights Violations in Turkey & Support to Turkish Migrants and Refugees

Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2016, the government of Turkey has been taking strict measures to silence dissidents in other countries from various ideologies recently. One of these opposition groups, the Gulen Movement (a.k.a “Hizmet Movement”, meaning service in Turkish), has been the main target since 2013. The Gulen Movement is a faith-based non-political, cultural and educational movement. The Movement is composed of a cluster of religious, educational and social organizations inspired by Fethullah Gulen.

After the July 15 failed coup attempt, the Turkish government accused Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers for having a connection with the failed coup. Gulen has repeatedly dismissed any involvement in the coup attempt. Foreign intelligence units such as Germany’s BND Foreign Intelligence Agency’s chief, EU intelligence-sharing unit (Intern), UK Parliament and U.S. House Intel Chair have all noted that there is no evidence that shows Gulen’s involvement. Nonetheless, Gulen spoke to global media outlets right after the coup attempt and called for an open international investigation to find out who was behind the attempt.

Yet, the Turkish government chose to declare state of emergency, which still continues, to purge thousands of people. Alleged supporters of the Movement in Turkey have been dealing with arrest, imprisonment, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, confiscation and passport seizure. After the failed coup, more than 130,000 people have been arbitrarily detained and more than 60,000 people have been arrested. Most of them are from the elite part of the society and are all well-educated individuals with different backgrounds such as doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, engineers and so on. The striking point is that most were imprisoned with no compelling evidence of any criminal activity. Nonetheless, there are 17,000 women in jail and 1914 children, where 688 are babies under age of six. There have also been several cases where women who just gave birth have been put in prison with their few days old babies. Moreover, more than 4,400 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed. The government has also seized 3,003 schools, dormitories, and universities. The government has also confiscated more than 800 companies worth more than $10 billion.

All independent media in Turkey have been shut down and confiscated by the government. Turkey is the leading country to imprison most journalists. Turkey has arrested 319 journalists since the coup. A lot of people are arrested for talking against government’s policies. Many students get imprisoned for their critical tweets. 70 thousand students are currently in jail in Turkey.

People are also arrested for having downloaded an encrypted messaging phone application called ByLock. The government believes coup plotters used this application. The Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) has handed over a list of people who have allegedly downloaded the application. People who are alleged of downloading the application have been imprisoned. Prof. Izzet Özgenç, who is one of the founders of the Turkish Penal Code, emphasized that the Bylock arrests made without revealing any evidence are unlawful. Recently, Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that close to 11 thousand people have been mistakenly investigated for use of ByLock. Turkey has also put the Amnesty International’s Turkey head, Taner Kiliç in jail for having downloaded block. While Kiliç claims that he has never downloaded the application, he is facing imprisonment for up to 15 years.

International human rights organizations have condemned and reported the human rights violations occurring in Turkey. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the winner of ‘Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press’ and ‘Most Thin-skinned’ awards. A new report released by the independent, non-profit and non-partisan watchdog organization Freedom House concluded that democratic principles such as election integrity and freedom of the press, political and civil rights have severely downgraded in Turkey that is no longer ‘a free country’. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in its recent “World Report 2018” that innocent people are imprisoned with no substantial evidence, inalienable rights have been taken away, and that there are more than 2,200 cases of torture and ill-treatment. Hugh Williamson, Europe, and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that “everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded”.

Due to increasingly severe human rights violations in Turkey, families have chosen to leave their country to seek safe haven. Many families have sought to enter Europe to seek asylum due to geographical proximity. However, there are also thousands of people who have also successfully reached and sought asylum in the United States. Unfortunately not everyone successfully reaches Europe. On November 21, 2017, Greek media reported that Greek authorities have found bodies of five members of the Maden family, including three children, a short time ago on the Greek Island of Lesvos. The father, Huseyin Maden, and mother, Nur Maden, were allegedly linked to the Gulen Movement and was forced to flee due to arrest warrant issued out on their names. The drowning has sparked outrage over an ongoing political purge.

Regrettably, Turkish government’s actions against the Gulen Movement are not limited to Turkish borders but are also extraterritorial. There are many examples of abductions and physical violence incidents in several countries as well as threats by pro-government people referring to the supporters abroad. Recently some Turkish teachers and principles who worked at schools funded by the Gulen Movement in Malaysia, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been abducted, and in some cases illegally deported back to Turkey.

Families who have successfully reached the United States by escaping the oppression of the Turkish government are now facing new challenges. Most of the families have left everything behind in Turkey; jobs, houses, education, relatives and the Turkish government have blocked their bank accounts. Some families were able to only bring a single luggage.

These families are now in need of shelter, financial support, and acceptance of their asylum applications. You could help by personally providing donations to these individuals, or donate through human rights organizations like Embrace Relief or Advocates of Silenced Turkey, who focuses on these Turkish nationals. You could also help with helping them attain legal help and cover legal fees for their asylum applications, with their education fees. Some other ways you can help is by sending support letters regarding the persecution of these Gulen sympathizers to relevant bodies such as the State Department, embassies and the European Court of Human Rights. You can also create awareness using social media and encourage other human rights and humanitarian aid organizations to create campaigns on behalf of these individuals. Given their circumstance, we hope that you can help these people through your support. Every bit of help will aggregate to make a big difference.


Download as a PDF File: AST_1-25-2018_SEVERITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TURKEY & SUPPORT TO TURKISH MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES_P9

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How The Supporters Of The Hizmet Movement Suffer From Persecutions By The Turkish Government?

Introduction

The Turkish government’s oppressive regime and strict measures against dissidents, especially the Hizmet Movement, have created a new group of people seeking asylum around the world. This paper includes many statements from various organizations and experts on the current situation in Turkey in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Hence, this study aims to shed light on how the authorities are expected to react towards asylum cases from Turkish applicants citing the risk of persecution based on their links with the Hizmet Movement.

1. Situation in Turkey in terms of Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, Rule of Law and Democracy

1.1. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2018, 19 January 2018

Turkey’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free, its political rights rating declined from 4 to 5, and its civil liberties rating declines from 5 to 6 due to a deeply flawed constitutional referendum that centralized power in the presidency, the mass replacement of elected mayors with government appointees, arbitrary prosecutions of rights activists and other perceived enemies of the state, and continued purges of state employees, all of which have left citizens hesitant to express their views on sensitive topics.

Constitutional revisions that concentrated power in the presidency were adopted in an April referendum. The campaign featured a grossly uneven playing field, and last-minute changes to the criteria for validating ballots—made in contravention of the law—undermined the legitimacy of the vote count.

The fear of arbitrary arrest stifled public discussion and weakened civil society.

1.2. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, 18 January 2018

Many decrees adopted contained measures that undermine human rights safeguards and conflict with Turkey’s international human rights obligations.

In January, the government ruled on the establishment of an ad hoc commission to review decisions made under the state of emergency. The commission lacks independence since its seven members are appointed by the same authorities responsible for approving dismissals and closures. … In the meantime, those affected have no right to work in public service, their bank accounts are frozen, and passports confiscated.

Turkey is the world leader in jailing journalists and media workers as they face criminal investigations and trials, with around 150 behind bars at time of writing. Most newspapers and television channels lack independence and promote the government’s political line.

There were widespread reports of police beating detainees, subjecting them to prolonged stress positions and threats of rape, threats to lawyers, and interference with medical examinations.

1.3. United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression on his mission to Turkey, 7 June 2017

The state of emergency decrees adopted in the aftermath of the coup attempt are far-reaching and give authorities wide discretionary powers to derogate from human rights obligations, without providing adequate channels for judicial review and appeal.

The Government is obligated to ensure that any restriction on freedom of expression during the state of emergency is strictly proportionate to the exigency of the situation. The tests of necessity and proportionality are not suspended during a period of derogation linked with a state of emergency.

1.4. Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2016/17, 21 February 2017

Freedom of expression deteriorated sharply during the year. After the declaration of a state of emergency, 118 journalists were remanded in pre-trial detention and 184 media outlets were arbitrarily and permanently closed down under executive decrees, leaving opposition media severely restricted. People expressing dissent, especially in relation to the Kurdish issue, were subjected to threats of violence and criminal prosecution. Internet censorship increased. At least 375 NGOs, including women’s rights groups, lawyers’ associations and humanitarian organizations, were shut by executive decree in November.

After July, the authorities used state of emergency laws to issue blanket bans preventing demonstrations in cities across Turkey. [P]olice used excessive force against people attempting to exercise the right to freedom of peaceful assembly regardless of the bans.

The state of emergency removed protections for detainees and allowed previously banned practices, which helped facilitate torture and other ill-treatment: the maximum pre-charge detention period was increased from four to 30 days; and facilities to block detainees’ access to lawyers in pre-charge detention for five days, and to record conversations between client and lawyer in pre-trial detention and pass them to prosecutors were introduced. Detainees’ access to lawyers and the right to consult with their choice of lawyers – rather than state-provided lawyers – was further restricted. Medical examinations were carried out in the presence of police officers and the reports arbitrarily denied to detainees’ lawyers.

Widespread torture and other ill-treatment of suspects accused of taking part in the coup attempt was reported in its immediate aftermath. In July, severe beatings, sexual assault, threats of rape and cases of rape were reported, as thousands were detained in official and unofficial police detention. Military officers appeared to be targeted for the worst physical abuse but holding detainees in stress positions and keeping them handcuffed behind their backs, and denying them adequate food and water or toilet breaks were reported to have taken place on a far wider scale. Lawyers and detainees’ relatives were often not informed that individuals had been detained until they were brought for charge.

1.5. Amnesty International, Annual Report 2015/16, 24 February 2016

Politically motivated appointments and transfers of judges and prosecutors continued throughout the year, wreaking havoc on a judiciary already lacking independence and impartiality. Criminal Courts of Peace – with jurisdiction over the conduct of criminal investigations, such as pre-charge detention and pre-trial detention decisions, seizure of property and appeals against these decisions – came under increasing government control.

1.6. Hugh Williams, Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, 18 January 2018

Everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded. The move to a presidential system, the ongoing state of emergency, and charges against opposition lawmakers have all weakened parliament, the courts are under ever tighter government control, and the crackdown on media and civil society deepens.

1.7. Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights (former), 7 October 2016

The decrees have introduced sweeping measures affecting, among others, civil society, municipalities, private schools, universities and medical establishments, legal professionals, media, business and finance, as well as the family members of suspects…. [T]he series of emergency decrees adopted in Turkey since July created very far-reaching, almost unlimited discretionary powers for administrative authorities and the executive in any areas, by derogation from general principles of rule of law and human rights safeguards ordinarily applicable in a democratic society.

Turkish authorities should immediately start repealing the emergency decrees, starting with the provisions which allow the highest degrees of arbitrariness in their application and stray the widest from ordinary guarantees.

1.8. British Legal Experts Lord Woolf, Sir Jeffrey Jowell, Sir Edward Garnier, July 2015

Since December 2013, the government has taken unprecedented steps to exert executive control over Turkey’s judiciary, to interfere with and derail the corruption investigation, to stifle criticism in the media and on the internet. The government has brought the main institution responsible for the judiciary, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, under its control by purging its members of anyone suspected of opposing the AKP government.

1.9. Riza Turmen, Judge at the European Court of Human Rights (former)

Turkey has a serious regime problem; it is not a democracy – you can probably call it ‘elected authoritarianism.’ It is a majoritarian and hegemonic system.

2. Persecutions that the Supporters of the Hizmet Movement Face

2.1. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2018, 19 January 2018

Using emergency powers and vaguely worded terrorism laws, the authorities had suspended or dismissed more than 110,000 people from public-sector positions and arrested more than 60,000 others by year’s end. Extensive use of pretrial detention meant that many suspects were held behind bars for long periods without due process. There was increasing evidence of extrajudicial “disappearances” and routine torture of political detainees.

2.2. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, 18 January 2018

Hundreds of media outlets, associations, foundations, private hospitals, and educational establishments that the government shut down by decree remained closed in 2017, their assets confiscated without compensation.

2.3. Amnesty International, No End in Sight: Purged Public Sector Workers Denied a Future in Turkey, 22 May 2017

[D]ecrees include similarly vague and non-individualized references to their connection to (unspecified) terrorist organizations or threat to national security. Nor has any individualized evidence been presented in the few examples of written decisions carried out under the authority of the decrees.

The government decrees also require their passports to be cancelled, preventing them from leaving the country. Others, along with their families, have lost housing and health care benefits provided through their jobs. Many have lost not only their jobs but the ability to carry on their professions, even in the private sector. After being tainted as “terrorists” through their dismissal, many have not been able to find work at all, inhibiting their right to work and their right to an adequate standard of living in the long term.

No individualized justification or evidence for the dismissal of public sector employees has been provided in the decrees or in subsequent administrative decisions made under the authority of the decrees. Neither have dismissed public sector employees been able to obtain information about the grounds for their dismissal either before or following their dismissal, beyond the vague generalized criteria of links to a terrorist organization or threat to national security. … Among the reasons advanced by dismissed public sector employees and their supporters, are people’s actual or perceived opposition to the ruling AK Party government, union activism, and local score-settling.

It remains uncertain for example whether dismissed individuals will be able to claim their full pension rights resulting from their years of service in the public sector. What is clear and stated explicitly in the decrees, is that in addition to being dismissed from their employment, they are expelled from all forms of public service. Given the broad interpretation of public service in Turkey, in many cases this means that dismissed people are effectively banned from continuing their professions.

All of the people Amnesty International spoke to were either living off their savings, being assisted by friends or family, doing jobs such as cleaning in the irregular economy, or surviving on the minimal amount paid to dismissed workers who are members of trade unions. None of the people interviewed believed that they could survive in the long term under these circumstances.

The fact that lists of dismissed people have been published in the decrees and on the internet, and form part of a person’s record, visible to state institutions and the public at large has led to additional pressures on them and their families.

2.4. United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016, 3 March 2017

Other human rights problems included prison overcrowding compounded by the influx of tens of thousands of new prisoners after the coup attempt. The government fired more than 3,000 members of the judiciary, creating an atmosphere of fear that further limited judicial independence and complicated or delayed court proceedings.

The vast majority were accused of ties to the Gulen movement, as opposed to direct participation in the coup attempt itself. Under the state of emergency, detainees could be held without charge for up to 30 days. There were numerous accounts of persons waiting beyond 30 days to be formally charged.

The suspension, detention, firing, and freezing of personal assets of more than 3,000 members of the judiciary after the July 15 coup attempt (representing about 22 percent of the total) accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement had a chilling effect on judicial independence.

After the July 15 coup attempt, the government seized hundreds of businesses and an estimated 15 billion lira ($4 billion) in assets from alleged members of the Gulen movement.

After the coup attempt, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on some wanted suspects. Under the state of emergency, the government cancelled the passports of family members of civil servants suspended from work as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases, the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of accused Gulenists who were outside the country, forcing family separation.

3. Approaches of Other Foreign Government Towards Asylum Cases from Turkish Applicants Citing the Risk of Persecution based on Their Links with the Hizmet Movement

3.1. Norway, Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security, 12 October 2017

[A] generally worsening human rights situation in that country have led to a new group of applicants seeking protection in Norway. These are persons who cite the risk of persecution based on links, or alleged links, to the Fethullah Gülen network/ movement. … These applicants can risk arrest, imprisonment, torture and conviction and will be entitled to protection … and that in some cases also family members of active Gülen affiliates may be entitled to protection. … The majority who have sought protection in Norway to date have been professors at, or have some other professional connections to, the Gülen schools and colleges at home and abroad.

[A]pplicants with credible indications of involvement within the Gülen movement, or applicants who can show that the domestic authorities in their country of origin have alleged such involvement, and where the actual or alleged involvement may trigger persecution by the authorities, shall be entitled to protection under the Immigration Act. … Referral to internal displacement will not be applicable, since the Turkish authorities control the whole country.

3.2. Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 29 September 2016

[I]nstead of targeting Gulen’s followers who “engaged in genuine criminal activity or abuse of power …” the AKP prosecutors targeted “journalists, businesspeople and academics who appear to be guilty of little more than sympathy for Gulen’s publicly expressed calls for moderation, non-violence and interfaith dialogue.

3.3. United Kingdom, Home Office Country Policy and Information Note, Turkey: Gulenism, April 2017

As the person’s fear is of persecution or serious harm from the state, they will not be able to avail themselves of the protection of the authorities. … As the person’s fear is of persecution or serious harm at the hands of the state, they will not be able to internally relocate to escape that risk. … Where a claim is refused, it is unlikely to be certifiable as ‘clearly unfounded.’

Overall Evaluation

In the light of all this information and comments, we ask governments, law enforcement officers and security officers to be aware of the risks that the supporters of the Movement may face when they return to their home countries. The Hizmet Movement is known to be promoting non-violence, inter-faith dialogue and education. Members of the Movement have not engaged any violent/criminal activity so far representing a moderate understanding of Islam. Therefore, existence of the Movement is important for the whole world to diminish radicalism where radicals have been creating disasters around the world. We request authorities to consider all these while taking action and speed up the asylum processes as much as possible since these people need immediate help.


Download as a PDF File: AST_1-25-2018_HOW-THE-SUPPORTERS-OF-THE-HIZMET-MOVEMENT-SUFFER-FROM-PERSECUTIONS-BY-THE-TURKISH-GOVERNMENT_P8

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Human Rights Watch’s Report Shows the Severity of Human Rights Violations in Turkey

On January 18, 2018, the Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) published a report reviewing the human rights practices around the world in 2017. The report titled “World Report 2018: Events of 2017” examined more than 90 countries including Turkey. In parts relevant to Turkey, the HRW scrutinized a wide range of topics such as the state of emergency measures, freedom of expression, association and assembly, torture and ill-treatment in custody as well as refugees’ situation.

The report firstly referred to the April 2017 referendum which introduced a new presidential system lacking satisfactory system of checks and balances. It highlighted the fact that the referendum was carried out under the state of emergency in an environment of heavy media censorship. The HRW’s points about the new presidential system indeed indicate that the separation of powers is at risk in Turkey whereas it is one of the most significant components of democracy.

The state of emergency measures also attract attention. The president can adopt decree laws without parliamentary oversight or the possibility of judicial review according to Turkish legislation. As reported by the HRW, these decree laws include many controversial measures incompatible with Turkey’s responsibilities under the international human rights law. More than 110,000 people were dismissed or suspended from their public positions with no explanation but only their names on lists published via decree laws. The government shut down plenty of institutions including media outlets, businesses, schools and universities, hospitals and non-governmental organizations such as associations and foundations. What is worse, there is still no effective authority for all these real and legal persons to apply for a review. People had little hope when the “State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission” was introduced to investigate measures taken under the state of emergency. Nevertheless, as stated by the HRW, independence of the Commission is doubtful since all of its members are appointed with the government’s approval. Further appeal is possible on the paper, but it is likely to take too much time because of the high influx of applications and applicants have nothing else but wait about their right to work in public service to be taken away, bank accounts to be frozen and passports to be canceled.

Many people including teachers, public servants such as police officers and military personnel, journalists and politicians were either arrested or detained under the state of emergency as well. The striking point is that most were imprisoned with no compelling evidence of any criminal activity, but only because of their alleged links with the Hizmet Movement inspired by an Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen who has been blamed by the government to mastermind the coup attempt. It is crucial to note here that the Movement has been strongly denying any involvement and Mr. Gulen has called for an international investigation on the issue.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly were also violated considerably by the Turkish government. To clarify, the government has blocked many websites and banned a huge amount of content, and all types of peaceful public protests were banned by the government as well as were violently dispersed. Unsurprisingly, Turkey is the leading country in the number of jailed journalists whose trials and case files are again insufficient. The documents used as an evidence against arrested journalists are mostly writing and reporting which do not promote any type of violence. As there is always a prominent risk of imprisonment and censorship, other journalists and media agencies cannot publish anything critical but only pro-government ideas. In March, 21 journalists who were arrested because of their connections with the Hizmet Movement, were released by the court. Their families went to the prison facilities to bring them back to their homes but could not. After huge criticisms by pro-government media, an appeal was lodged against eight of them and a new investigation was started against the rest. Therefore, eventually, none of them were released. In addition, judges and a prosecutor who was at this trial were suspended by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Many of the journalists from the newspaper Zaman, claimed to be supporting the Movement, have been on trial due to writings without a reference to any type of violence and they face life imprisonment.

Not only individuals related to the Hizmet Movement but also leftist and Kurdish people were targeted by the government. According to the HRW’s report, 19 journalists from the newspaper Cumhuriyet were jailed as well. In one of the cases concerning Cumhuriyet, Enis Berberoglu was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment who is a parliamentarian from the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP). The court of appeal has overturned his conviction, yet he is not released as well as not expected to be released as the government still wants him behind bars. Similarly, plenty of journalists were arrested from the newspaper Ozgur Gundem which was shut down by the government.

Lawyers and human rights defenders received their own shares from the Turkish government’s oppression. Around 500 lawyers have been arrested and 1000 are yet on trial, mostly because of supporting the Hizmet Movement. Chair of Amnesty International, Taner Kilic, has been in prolonged detention with “politically motivated and unsubstantiated charges” as said by the HRW.

The HRW also explored the detention conditions during police custody and concluded that many instances of torture and ill-treatment were witnessed. There have been many cases reported where police officers beat detainees, left them in physically stressed positions and threatened them to rape. Enforced disappearances, scaring defense lawyers and interfering with medical examinations also took place in the country.

Regarding the ongoing conflict in the southeast region, the government could not yet make a progress. Party co-leaders and parliamentarians of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) were sent to prison. Additionally, 89 mayors were dismissed by the government as specified by the report. The government has clearly violated freedom of expression and rights to political association, participation, and representation.

The report highlighted the refugee crisis as well which indeed concerns the whole world. The conditions in which refugees live (mostly Syrian but also from other countries) are not compatible with international standards.

All these were expressed in various occasions by international actors. The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United States State Department and many other foreign governments have called the Turkish government to end this human rights disaster going on in the country as was stated by the Human Rights Watch’s report.


Download as a PDF File: AST_1-22-2018_HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH’S REPORT SHOWS THE SEVERITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TURKEY_P7

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An int’l witch-hunt? ‘Four teachers working in the Afghan-Turkish schools were detained’

One Afghan and three Turkish teachers linked to the faith-based Gülen movement were detained by Afghan intelligence officials on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The move against Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), the organization that runs the schools, appeared to be part of a witch-hunt being waged on followers of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016.

The ATCE, which says it is an independent organization, runs schools in several cities including the capital, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat and has been in Afghanistan since 1995.

“Around 7 am, four of our teachers traveling in two different cars were picked up by [Afghan intelligence],” said ATCE Chairman Numan Erdoğan.

Other intelligence officials later went to the group’s girls school nearby looking for another teacher, he said.

He said the men presented themselves as members of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, according to Reuters.

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