Annual Report: Turkey 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Turkey 2011

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Head of state: Abdullah Gül
Head of government: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 75.7 million
Life expectancy: 72.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 36/27 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 88.7 per cent

Constitutional amendments and revisions to the Anti-Terrorism Law represented a step towards upholding human rights, but fell short of the fundamental change required. Criminal prosecutions violating the right to freedom of expression continued. Proposed independent human rights mechanisms were not established. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment continued, and criminal investigations and prosecutions of law enforcement officials remained ineffective. Numerous unfair trials were held using anti-terrorism legislation. Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. The rights of conscientious objectors, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and refugees and asylum-seekers remained unsecured in law. Minimal progress was made in preventing violence against women.

Background

Constitutional amendments were approved by Parliament in May and by referendum in September, with an approval rating of nearly 60 per cent. Amendments included changing the composition of the Constitutional Court and the powerful Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors, allowing military officials to be tried in civilian courts, the establishment of an Ombudsman office and positive measures to combat discrimination.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) renewed ceasefire declarations throughout the year but clashes with the Turkish armed forces continued. In November, talks were reported to have taken place between the state and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

In October, the trial began of 152 activists and elected officials in Diyarbakır accused of membership of the PKK-linked Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Of these defendants, 104 were in pre-trial detention. Concerns were raised that much of the evidence against the defendants was based on their attendance at meetings and demonstrations, and on press releases they had published.

The prosecution in connection with Ergenekon, an alleged ultra-nationalist network with links to state institutions, continued. Progress in investigating the link between the suspects and past human rights violations remained slow.

No progress was made in removing the legal barriers that prevent women wearing the headscarf in universities, although implementation of the ban relaxed during the year.

In May, the UN Human Rights Council considered Turkey's human rights record under the UN Universal Periodic Review. The government committed to complying with many of the recommendations, but notably rejected those calling for the greater recognition of minority rights and those to amend or abolish articles of the Penal Code that limit freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression

There was more open debate regarding previously taboo issues. However, people were prosecuted under different articles of the Penal Code because they had criticized the armed forces, the position of Armenians and Kurds in Turkey, and ongoing criminal prosecutions. In addition, anti-terrorism laws, carrying higher prison sentences and resulting in pre-trial detention orders, were used to stifle legitimate free expression. Kurdish political activists, journalists and human rights defenders were among those most frequently prosecuted. Arbitrary restrictions continued to be imposed, blocking access to websites, and newspapers were issued with temporary closure orders. There were continued threats of violence against outspoken individuals.