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Refugees-and-Latest-Pushbacks-in-Greece

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Introduction

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the boat is safer than the land.” (Warshan Shire, Home)

Thousands of refugees fleeing their homeland due to violence, terror, or political prosecution use Greece as an entry gate to Europe. Since the beginning of 2014, over 1.1 million refugees have crossed the borders of Greece(3). Most of the refugees have chosen to go by sea in order to land on one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, but recently a growing number of refugees have begun to use Evros as a passage from Turkey to Greece. In recent years, besides refugees who are using Turkey as a transitway to Greece, Turkish citizens who were forced to flee Turkey due to a massive witch-hunt have also used the same route. This witch-hunt was launched by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government against the sympathizers of the Gulen Movement following a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Many of these citizens attempted to escape Turkey using illegal methods as the Turkish government canceled their passports.

So far, the asylum-seeking Turkish citizens who cross the Evros to escape from a tyrannical regime in Turkey are embraced humanely by the Greek authorities. However, there have been recent reports of several push-back cases, in which groups of Turkish asylum-seekers were beaten by masked men and forced back to Turkey.

Human Rights Abuses in Turkey After July 15, 2016

Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and began to target any individual opposing the government, the Gulen Movement in particular. The Gulen Movement is also known as the “Hizmet Movement,” “hizmet” meaning service in Turkish. It is a faith-based group of people engaging in different voluntary activities such as education, business, and health, and has been the primary target of the government. Alleged supporters of the movement in Turkey are faced with arrest, imprisonment, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, denial of fair treatment, labeling, confiscation, and passport seizure.

According to a report released by the United States Department of State on human rights practices in Turkey in 2018 (2), between July 2016 and July 2018, Turkish Ministry of Justice reported that “investigations” were opened into 612,347 persons, the majority of whom were affiliated with the Gulen movement. Authorities prosecuted 1,519 lawyers and dismissed 7,257 academics and more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors. After the coup, the government operated prisons became filled with people who were detained and awaiting trial and began to operate over capacity. 28 individuals disappeared, some kidnapped in broad daylight in front of their families. Reports of torture, mistreatment, and abuse skyrocketed from tens in 2017 to more than 2,500 in 2018. 51 people lost their lives under suspicious circumstances in official custody.

In addition to opening investigations into persons associated with the movement, the government has made many attempts to limit its citizen’s physical freedom and freedom of speech. 155,000 individuals whose family members were allegedly connected to the Gulen movement were banned from traveling, and the government has investigated over 45,000 social media accounts and blocked more than 50,000 websites. Furthermore, during the first six months of 2018, Twitter received 8,988 court orders and requests from authorities to remove content.

Refugees and Latest Push-backs in Greece

Due to its geographical location, Greece has been the forefront of the influx of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing their home country due to wars, political instability, and economic crises. In the last couple of years, a significant number of Turkish citizens have also begun to cross the border between Turkey and Greece and sought asylum due to the Turkish government’s targeting of dissidents belonging to different ideologies, particularly the Gulen Movement.

Immigrants fleeing from Turkey to Greece either cross the Aegean Sea or the land border between Turkey and Greece that is almost entirely formed by the Evros river. The land border between Turkey and Greece is one of the easternmost frontiers of the European Union. Up until a fence went up on all but 12 kilometers of the Evros in 2012, it was the easiest and safest path for asylum seekers from the Middle East and elsewhere to reach Europe. According to the Greece country report released in March 2019 by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (3), “18,014 persons arrived in Greece through the Greek-Turkish land border of Evros in 2018, compared to 6,592 in 2017.” The same report detailed “a substantial increase of applications submitted from Turkish nationals” in 2018; 4,834 applications in 2018, compared to 1,826 in 2017 and 189 in 2016.

In addition to its own economic problems, Greece has long been dealing with an immigration crisis which has had further economic and social impacts on the country. Faced with a flood of refugees from Greece’s land border with Turkey over the past several years, according to DW News (9), Greek guards are overwhelmed with the task of protecting the borders from refugees and the refugees from violent push-backs. According to a report released by Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), “foreign nationals were returned from Greece to Turkey by boat across the Evros River; some of the persons met alleged that they had been ill-treated (including baton blows to the head) by police and border guard officers or (para-) military commandos during such operations.”(10) According to a news article in The Guardian (11), several unidentified masked men participated in abusing the refugees and forced them back to the Turkish border in freezing temperatures at night without any clothing.

Although there were numerous reports of push-backs made by an unidentified group of people towards immigrants in the past (4), the immigrants who were mainly Turkish citizens never reported any mistreatment on the Greek side of the border until recently. In the last couple of months, there have been several reports that Turkish asylum seekers who entered Greece through the Evros river were beaten by masked men and pushed back into Turkey.

According to ipa.news (5) and Bold (13), while trying to seek asylum in Greece, the Gul family were pushed back into Turkey by masked and armed men dressed in camouflage. Halil Gul, Seher Gul, and their three children entered Greece but were denied entry on Monday. Halil and Seher Gul were taken into custody by the gendarme in the Turkish border city of Edirne. Relatives of the family were called to pick the children up. Zubeyir Koculu, a journalist in Athens, reported the latest update regarding the issue as follows: “A total number of 32 Turkish political asylum seekers were pushed back to Turkey through Evros in the last four days after they arrived in Greece. 17 of them were arrested in Turkey, 11 of them managed to cross the border again and are being kept in custody.”

As reported by keeptalkinggreece.com, ipa.news (12), and Bold (13), a group of 15 people fleeing persecution in Turkey were pushed back to Turkey after crossing the Greek border by masked men using brute force. A family of 4 were arrested by the Turkish police and the remaining 11 people, after a second attempt to enter Greece soil, were detained by Greek police at around 2 P.M. on Saturday near the border and taken into custody according to the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), a nongovernmental organization defending human rights and fighting against illegal pushbacks in the region. In his e-mail to UN representatives, Muhammed Ihsan Erdogan, a Turkish political asylum seeker who currently resides in Athens, says that on May 4th, 2019, around 5:30, three Turkish political asylum seekers, one of whom was his sister, crossed the Evros river in order to come to Greece and were very close to Orestiada. He was asking for help because his sister and two others were afraid of being pushed back into Turkey. His sister also sent a similar message to UN representatives stating that they were afraid of inhumane treatment and being pushed back into Turkey, which would put their lives in danger. However, after these two messages, these three people were pushed back into Turkey and Mr. Erdogan’s sister, Ayse Reyhane Erdogan, was put behind bars in a Turkish prison for two years.

According to a Twitter message from Tihomir Sabchev, in an article that appeared in the Greek magazine Lifo, “people testified in front of lawyers in Thessaloniki” that they were beaten by the police, their possessions were thrown away in the river, they were pushed back. Then they identified one of the policemen in front of UN representatives.”(14)

According to a news article at Euronews.com (15), scores of Turkish asylum seekers were pushed back, sometimes violently. It is said in the news that witnesses claimed that various groups, some uniformed, used physical force against those who resisted. Since April 23, 2019, up to the date the news was published, May 13, 2019, 82 people from Turkey, including children, who crossed the Turkish border for seeking political asylum were sent back to Turkey. Around half of those who returned were arrested by Turkish officials on charges that they were involved in the 2016 military coup.

The pushbacks raised concerns among human rights activists and those who are sensitive to such matters. Ten Greek refugee NGOs urged for the immediate investigation of reports of collective expulsions in the Evros region (8). In addition, Rebecca Harms, a member of the EU Parliament, stated that this situation violates international law. According to Euronews.com (15), The European Commission urged Greece to follow up on the allegations of pushbacks.

Many Turkish asylum-seekers in Greece say they feel safe in Greece (7) and have been treated well. However, the latest reports of push-back incidents raise serious concerns among advocates of human rights.

Evaluation in terms of International Human Rights Law

Push-back news creates an alarming situation in terms of international human rights law and refugee law. These Turkish families from the Hizmet Movement feel that they have no other option but to flee from Erdogan’s dictatorship in any way they could find. It must be highlighted that people are risking their lives to reach Greece with hopes of a new, safe, and free life. These people satisfy the conditions to be considered as refugees in Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention which defines it as “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” (16). If they are to stay in Turkey, it is highly likely that they will face one or more of the Turkish government’s persecution methods such as arbitrary and long pretrial detentions, inhuman prison conditions, abductions, unfair trials and convictions, passport cancellations.

International human rights law protects these families. Greece is a party to many human rights treaties and conventions as part of the European Union and the United Nations, thus has an obligation to protect these people when they reached Greece soils. More specifically, both under the EU and UN legislation, Greece cannot return, deport or expel these refugee families knowing that they will suffer from the Turkish government’s persecutions.

Likewise, Alfred De Zayas, Former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order and Professor of International Law at Geneva School of Diplomacy, asserts that

“In the spirit of article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations adopted in 1951 the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees. The Convention and its 1967 Protocol lay down the framework for the protection of persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution and hence have an international law right to apply for asylum.  Article 33 of the Refugee Convention elaborates upon the rule of non-refoulement, which prohibits states from deporting, expelling or extraditing asylum seekers to any state where they would be exposed to persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The rule of non-refoulement has also been enacted in other core international human rights treaties such as Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and article 7 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which have been ratified by Greece. The Committee against Torture’s General Comment No. 1 further elucidates the rule and establishes pertinent criteria for its practical application.

Looking at the current situation in Greece, it must be emphasized that Greece is obliged to comply with its commitments under international human rights law and refugee law. Members of the Hizmet Movement fleeing from the Turkish government’s harsh persecutions fulfill the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention and have every right to demand protection from deportation to Turkey, where they face persecution. Recent push-backs of asylum seekers from the Hizmet Movement who have been denied the opportunity to have their asylum applications considered in Greece and who have been forcefully returned to Turkey by masked men is extraordinarily worrisome and contravenes international human rights law and refugee law. Hitherto Greece had welcomed the refugees from Turkey.  Greece must stop all push backs, comply with its obligations under international law, and also investigate all reports of push backs and determine responsibilities.  The Greek Government should avail itself of advisory services and technical assistance, which both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Human Rights can provide.”

Moreover, Professor Anwar Alam, Senior Fellow at Middle Institute with Policy Perspectives Foundation in New Delhi, also states that.

“In this context, it must be brought to attention that fleeing Hizmet or non-Hizmet people from Turkey to Greece via Evros River or the Aegean Sea enjoy a legal right of protection after crossing into Greece border. EU Asylum Procedures Directive (Directive 2013/32/EU) states that the first country of asylum is a country where the person has already received international protection – a refugee-like protection, or another kind of “sufficient protection” which must at least include non-refoulement guarantees (Article 35 of the Directive).

Therefore, Greek authorities are urged to comply with this legal injunction and investigate the issue of masked men who are pushing back the refugees to Turkey.”

Conclusion

Migrant pushback is a growing concern, especially in the Greek-Turkish land border. Push-backs, as the word conveys the message, is stopping migrants in the borders and pushing them back by force to the country where they came from. The legal term is collective expulsion (17). According to Article 4 of Protocol 4 (Art 4-4) to the European Convention on Human Rights, push- back is defined in legal terms as “The well-established definition of collective expulsion is any measure of the competent authorities compelling aliens as a group to leave the country, except where such a measure is taken after and on the basis of a reasonable and objective examination of the particular cases of each individual alien of the group.”(18)

Migration is not easy for those who migrate as well as those countries who receive them. People will continue to leave their countries in search of a more secure and dignified future if they face life-threatening conditions, political imprisonment, and torture. Considering the political landscape in the Middle East and Turkey, we do not see credible evidence that the influx of migrants to Greece will stop in the near future. Therefore, Greek authorities should review their border security procedures and give serious consideration to maintaining the safety of asylum seekers to remain in compliance with international laws and regulations. The Greek authorities should investigate the pushback and violence allegations whether those allegations are against border security guards or non-governmental violent groups.

References

  1. Kotsiou, O. S., Kotsios, P., Srivastava, D. S., Kotsios, V., Gourgoulianis, K. I., & Exadaktylos, A. K. (2018). Impact of the Refugee Crisis on the Greek Healthcare System: A Long Road to Ithaca. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(8), 1790. doi:10.3390/ijerph15081790
  2. United States Department of State (2018). Turkey 2018 Human Rights Report. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/289435.pdf
  3. Konstantinou, A.& Georgopoulou, A.(2019). Asylum Information Database, Country Report: Greece. European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
  4. Reidy, E.(2018). An open secret: Refugee pushbacks across the Turkey- Greece border. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/special-report/ 2018/10/08/refugee-pushbacks-across-turkey-greece-border-Evros.
  5. IpaNews (2019). Another group of Turkish asylum seekers who arrived in Greece pushed-back to Turkey. https://ipa.news/2019/04/29/another- group-of-turkish-asylum-seekers-who-arrived- in-greece-pushed- back-to-turkey/.
  6. Keep Talking Greece (2019). https://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2019/ 04/30/turkish-asylum-seekers-evros/?utm_source=feedburner& utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed  253A+KeepTalkingGreece+ 2528Keep+Talking+Greece 2529
  7. NPR (2017). https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/12/27/ 571842458/turks-fleeing-to-greece-find-mostly-warm-welcome- despite-history
  8. EFSYN (2019). https://www.efsyn.gr/node/193572
  9. DWNews (2018). Inside Europe: Greece accused of migrant pushbacks https://www.dw.com/en/inside-europe-greece-accused-of-migrant- pushbacks/av-46044142
  10. CEO-CPT (2018). https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/greece- council-of-europe-anti-torture-committee-calls-for-the-situation-of-psychiatric-patients-to-be-improved-while- criticising-once-again-the-poor-t
  11. Guardian (2018). https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/18/ greek-police-accused-beating-migrants-trying-to-enter-from- turkey
  12. Ipa News (2019). https://ipa.news/2019/04/28/we-were-beaten-and- pushed-back-by-masked-men-at-turkish-greek-border-turkish- journalist-and-asylum-seeker/
  13. Bold (2019). https://medyabold.com/2019/04/29/iki-ayri-turkiyeli- multeci-grubu-yunanistandan-geri-itildi/
  14. Lifo (2019). https://m.lifo.gr/articles/greece_articles/ 236781/apokleistiki-sygklonistiki-martyria-apo-to-teleytaio- push-back-ston-evro?fbclid=IwAR2PuufQWcjmHNp2tCyzsvfeN-X4rxJYjezsseBQsRZbq9ITHuknTANG28g
  15. EuroNews (2019). https://www.euronews.com/2019/05/11/masked-men- beat-us-with-batons-greece-accused-of-violent-asylum-seeker-pushbacks
  16. UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3be01b964.html [accessed 1 June 2019].
  17. Macgregor, M. (2018). InfoMigrants. https://www.infomigrants.net/en/ post/11579/greek-authorities-accused-of-illegal-pushbacks-and- violence-against-migrants
  18. Council of Europe (2019). Guide on Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/ Documents/Library_Collection_P4postP11_ETS046E_ENG.pdf

 

 

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PRESS RELEASE Re: Call on Turkish Government to end the violations of right to travel and cancellations of passports

 

PDF LINK of STATEMENT

Turkish Justice Minister on January 18, 2019, declared that more than 500,000 people have been investigated and arrested on terror and coup linked charges. Turkey deliberately violates domestic legislation and international agreements. Specially, the freedom to travel has been protected by many international documents including Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Article 10 of the Convention on Rights of Child, Article 8 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 4th Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey provides that; “Everyone has the right to freedom of residence and travel…Freedom of travel may be restricted by law for the purpose of investigation and prosecution of an offense, and prevention of offenses. A citizen’s freedom to leave the country may be restricted only by the decision of a judge based on a criminal investigation or prosecution. Citizens shall not be deported, or deprived of their right of entry into the homeland.”

The passport application of Dr. Haluk Asuman SAVAS, who wants to be treated abroad for his cancer which relapsed twice, has been denied with the accusation of being dismissed from his job and his passport was canceled with a statutory decree although he has been acquitted for the allegation of being member of a terrorist organization and although the court, where he was being prosecuted, canceled his travel ban. Upon the public criticism, on 5/15/2019, the Adana Governorship stated “The mentioned person’s legal situation, health condition, application and documents, the authority, which has been used for several people in crucial and rare cases, has been reported to be evaluated by the Internal Affairs Ministry with the document number 17480 and date of 5/14/2019 and will be processed upon the response of the ministry. On 5/16/2019, in the additional press statement it was declared “Upon the evaluations on the mentioned person, a passport will be assigned by using the 22nd article of the 5682 numbered passport law which is used in crucial conditions” and made it clear that he would be able to benefit from this legal right and the passport cancellation process should be denied.

Prof Savas was given his passport within an exceptional authority used for a limited and exclusive number of people. However, it is known that there are hundreds of thousands of people whose passports are canceled with the statutory decree of a state of emergency and people whose right to travel is denied. According to the notification with the date 8/5/2019 of the Internal Affairs Ministry “The paraphrases on the passports of 155,350 people, which are determined to be paraphrased for the investigations on the owners’ spouses even though there is no juridical or executive process by the General Administration of Registration and Citizenship and the Police Department, has been cancelled on 7/25/2019.” Besides, in the notification with the date 3/1/2019, it is stated that “Upon the investigation and search made by our ministry, the restricted passports of 155,350 people which were blocked previously have been activated and in addition to this, the passports of 57,191 other people have been activated as well. Thus, so far, in total, passports of 212,541 people have been activated by canceling the executive limitations on them by our ministry.”

In consideration of the evaluations above, AST is calling the Turkish Government to end the aforesaid violations caused by the executive limitations which are clearly illegal.

In order for the state not to have more responsibilities by the international agreements and not to face sanctions;

 

  • Implementation of executive limitation, which is against the international agreements and the constitution, should be ended.

 

  • Within the responsibilities brought by the international agreements, necessary regulations should be implemented and tracked effectively immediately for the civil servants.     

 Hafza Y. GIRDAP

Spokesperson

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SEND A LETTER: GRAVE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TURKEY

AST STATEMENT REGARDING GRAVE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TURKEY ON
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, DECEMBER 10

Under the state of emergency, imposed after the July 2016 attempted coup and lifted on July 2018, President Erdogan presided over the cabinet, which could pass decrees without parliamentary scrutiny or the possibility of appeal to the constitutional court. Many decrees adopted contained measures that undermine human rights safeguards and conflict with Turkey’s international human rights obligations. The routine extensions of the state of emergency within two years have led to profound human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of people – from arbitrary deprivation of the right to work and to freedom of movement, to torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions and infringements of the rights to freedom of association and expression.

The Erdogan government is showing disregard to the rights of its dissidents. Approximately 217,000 people are detained and over 82,000 people are arrested on terrorism charges. Those prosecuted include journalists, civil servants, teachers, politicians, academics, human rights defenders as well as police officers and military personnel. The prosecutions often lack compelling evidence of criminal activity. Thereby the State officials use torture and ill-treatment in custody, including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks, waterboarding and interference with medical examinations.

Public officials continued to be dismissed or suspended by decree without due process, with more than 170,000 dismissed since July 2016. Those dismissed from their jobs lost their income, social benefits, medical insurance, and even their homes, as various decrees stipulated that public servants “shall be evicted from publicly-owned houses or houses owned by a foundation in which they live within 15 days”.

Websites including Wikipedia are blocked. Hundreds of media outlets, associations, foundations, private hospitals, and educational establishments that the government shut down by decrees are still closed, their assets were confiscated without compensation. The states of emergency have been used to severely and arbitrarily curtail the human rights of a very large number of people which is also declared by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

One of the most alarming actions of the Turkish authorities is incarceration of women who are pregnant or have just given birth. Some are incarcerated with their children and others violently separated from them. At this moment, seven hundred forty-three (743) children under the age of six are in jails across Turkey with their mothers, detained or arrested as part of the government crackdown on its dissidents. One hundred forty-nine (149) of these children are infants under a year old. “This is simply outrageous, utterly cruel, and surely cannot have anything whatsoever to do with making the country safer” as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein” also emphasized.

Another alarming action of the Turkish government is the overseas operations conducted by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to capture perceived political opponents of President Erdogan’s administration. Abductions are perpetrated by violating international legal norms.

We, as Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST), want to emphasize our deep concern and make you aware of human rights violations in Turkey. We want the Turkish government to change its seizure policies and reinstitute human rights all over the country and follow the rule of law. Turkey is in breach of its International Law Obligations. We, as AST urge you to address this situation and attract attention to it in your official capacity. AST urges to stand against the unlawful practices of the Turkish government after the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

In this regard, we call upon the Government of the Republic of Turkey to:

● Stop arbitrary arrests, detentions and wrongful prosecution of political prisoners and release them;

● Stop arbitrary arrests, detentions and wrongful prosecution of women and children;

● Stop illegal overseas operations to capture perceived political opponents;

● Stop, prevent and punish the use of torture and ill-treatment by State officials;

● Reinstate, those wrongly detained, prosecuted and dismissed from their posts;

● Ensure and safeguard the independence of the legal profession.

You can download the AST Statement’s PDF version about Grave Human Rights Violations in Turkey

https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Human-Rights-Day-Letter.pdf

SEND AN EMAIL OR MAIL

We urge you to express your views or send attached sample statement to following addresses:

https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Human-Rights-Day-Letter.docx

SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

#FreePrisonersofConscience
#StandUp4HumanRights

Video about Children and their Mothers are Prisoners of Conscience in Turkey

AST FLYER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

https://silencedturkey.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/HUMAN-RIGHTS-DAY-FLYER.jpg

CONTACT INFORMATION FOR INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS ABOUT HUMAN RIGHT VIOLATIONS.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

The Honorable Ms. Michelle Bachelet Jeria/High Commissioner
InfoDesk@ohchr.org
civilsociety@ohchr.org
dexrel@ohchr.org

COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE, U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION

234 Ford House Office Building 3rd & D streets SW, Washington, DC 20515

TEL: 202-225-1901 | FAX: 202-226-4199 |
EMAIL: INFO@CSCE.GOV
Twitter: @HelsinkiComm | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helsinkicommission

UNITED NATIONS & EU

The Honorable Zeid Ra’ad AI Hussein
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH- 121 I Geneva 10. Switzerland
Email: InfoDesk@ohchr.org

The Honorable Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
Palais des Nations
CH- 1 2 1 1 Geneva 1 0. Switzerland
Email: sreducation@ohchr.org

The Honorable David Kaye
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Palais des Nations
CH- 121 I Geneva 10. Switzerland
Email: freedex@ohchr.org

The Honorable Federica Mogherini
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
European Commission
Rue de la Loi 200/Wetstraat 200 B-1049
Brussels, Belgium
Email: federica.mogherini@ec.europa.eu

The Honorable Thorbjorn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Council of Europe
Avenue de I’Europe F-67075
Strasbourg Cedex, France
Email: private.office@coe.int

The Honorable Nils Muiznicks
Commissioner for Human Rights
Council of Europe
Avenue de I’Europe F-67075
Strasbourg Cedex, France

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Email: https://register.state.gov/contactus/contactusform
Phone: (202) 647-6575
Twitter: @StateDept
Website: https://www.state.gov/

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND NGOS

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Twitter: @hrw | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HumanRightsWatch

NY Address: 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA
Tel: +1-212-290-4700
Fax: +1-212-736-1300

Emma Daly, Communications Director
Tel: +1-212-216-1835
Fax: +1-212-736-1300

HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION

Twitter: @HRF | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsfoundation/

New York Address: 350 5th Ave., #4515 New York, NY, 10001
Phone Number: (212) 246-8486

FREEDOM HOUSE

Twitter: @FreedomHouseDC | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FreedomHouseDC

For all general inquiries, please contact
Freedom House: info@freedomhouse.org or call our main line: 202-296-5101, fax 202-293-2840

For Congressional inquiries, please email
Annie Boyajian, Advocacy Manager, at boyajian@freedomhouse.org

Freedom House Washington Office Address:
1850 M Street NW, Floor 11
Washington D.C. 20036

Freedom House New York Office Address:
120 Wall Street, Fl. 26
New York, NY 10005

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Twitter: @amnestyusa | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amnestyusa

If you believe your human rights have been violated and you need referrals for assistance or want to share your story, contact our research team
report@aiusa.org

NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY

Twitter: @NEDemocracy | Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/National.Endowment.for.Democracy

Ph: (202) 378-9700
E-Mail: INFO@NED.ORG

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL

Twitter: @anticorruption | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TransparencyInternational/

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT

Address: Alt-Moabit 96 10559 Berlin Germany

General contact:
Telephone: +49 30 3438 200
Fax: +49 30 3470 3912
Email: ti@transparency.org

INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Twitter: @fidh_en | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FIDH.HumanRights

FIDH AT THE UN (NEW-YORK)
110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1309 NY 10017 New-York

Phone Number: 001 646 395 7103

HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST

Twitter: @humanrights1st | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsfirst

New York
Human Rights First
75 Broad St, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10004
Tel: (212) 845 5200
Fax: (212) 845 5299

Washington
Human Rights First
805 15th Street NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 547 5692
Fax: (202) 543 5999

INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE

Email: information@icj-cij.org
Phone: (+31) 70 302 23 23
Fax: (+31) 70 364 99 28
Twitter: @CIJ_ICJ
Website: http://www.icj-cij.org/en

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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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