Annual Report: Turkey 2013

Report
May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Turkey 2013

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Republic of Turkey

Head of state Abdullah Gül

Head of government Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Freedom of expression remained restricted despite limited legislative reforms. The police used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. Investigations and prosecutions into alleged human rights abuses by state officials were flawed. The pattern of unfair trials under anti-terrorism legislation persisted. Bomb attacks claimed the lives of civilians. No progress was made in recognizing the right to conscientious objection or in outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The number of refugees from Syria seeking shelter in Turkey reached almost 150,000. Turkey adopted stronger legal protections to combat violence against women and girls but existing mechanisms were inadequately implemented in practice.

Background

Discussions regarding the adoption of a new Constitution continued throughout the year but with little evidence of consensus among the political parties or effective engagement with civil society.

In October, the Parliament passed a resolution authorizing military intervention in Syria for 12 months and another extending the existing authorization for intervention targeting the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq for another year. The vote followed a Syrian mortar landing in Akçakale, a border town in Turkey's Şanlıurfa province, killing five people.

Armed clashes between the armed forces and the PKK had also increased. The army claimed to have “rendered ineffective” 500 armed PKK members in September alone. In December the government announced that it had taken part in negotiations with the PKK.

Hundreds of prisoners across Turkey went on hunger strike in February and again in September to protest at the authorities' refusal to allow imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to receive visits from his lawyers, among other demands. The protests ended in April and November respectively, following calls to do so from Abdullah Öcalan.

In May, the Parliament passed the urban regeneration law, which removed procedural guarantees for residents affected by such projects and heightened concerns that they would result in forced evictions. In October, the Parliament passed trade union legislation that failed to uphold ILO standards, particularly with regard to the right to strike and the right to collective bargaining.

In September, more than 300 serving and retired military officers were convicted of planning “Sledgehammer”, an alleged violent plot to overthrow the government. The verdict polarized opinion in Turkey between those seeing it as a victory against impunity for abuses by the military and others who alleged that the evidence used to secure the convictions had been fabricated.

Freedom of expression

Little progress was made in addressing the restrictions on freedom of expression in the media and more widely in civil society. Criminal prosecutions frequently targeted non-violent dissenting opinions, particularly on controversial political issues and criticism of public officials and institutions. Dissenting opinions related to issues of Kurdish rights and politics were foremost of those subjected to criminal prosecution.

In July, Parliament passed a series of reforms as part of the “Third Judicial Package”, which abolished or amended several laws used to limit freedom of expression. The reforms did not amend the definitions of offences used to limit freedom of expression, including, notably, those contained in anti-terrorism legislation.