UN concerned over claims of torture in Turkey

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture expressed concerns Feb. 27 after allegations of torture and human rights violations committed by Turkish police arose snce the end of his official visit in December 2016. According to Nils Melzer, those suspected of being involved with the Gülenist Movement or the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party are alleged to be subject to brutal interrogation techniques, such as beatings, electrical shock, exposure to icy water, sleep deprivation, sexual assault and threats, to elicit confessions or incriminating statements against others. Perpetrators have not been held accountable as the state of emergency decree, which exempts public officials from criminal responsibility for actions taken to enforce the state of emergency, has been used to justify the dismissal of any complaints.

 Melzer, in sharp criticism of such a decree, stated:

The human right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment is absolute and non-derogable, and continues to apply in all situations of political instability or any other public emergency. [T]he authorities' failure to publicly condemn torture and ill-treatment, and to enforce the universal prohibition of such abuse in daily practice seems to have fostered a climate of impunity, complacency and acquiescence which gravely undermines that prohibition and, ultimately, the rule of law.

Last March the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report describing a plethora of human rights violations committed by the Turkish government between July 2015 and December 2016, Since the attempted coup of 2016, the government has taken several steps to strengthen its power. In May President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the state of emergency temporarily placed on the country after a failed coup in 2016 would continue until the country reached "welfare and peace." In October, Human Rights Watch warned that the emergency decrees had resulted in serious rights violations. Additionally, in November Turkey significantly restricted the activities of NGOs like human rights organizations and children's groups and arrested opposition party leaders, alleging they were connected to terrorist organizations.

Currently, no investigation has been opened regarding these allegations.

From Jurist. Used with permission.

See our last post on the crackdown in Turkey.

Turkish lawmakers approve controversial electoral reform

Turkey's parliament on March 13 approved legislation modifying electoral regulations, leading to a brawl on the chamber floor. The opposition says the new rules could lead to fraud and undermine the integrity of polls scheduled next year.

The legislation allows the Supreme Electoral Council to redraw voting districts and move ballot boxes for security reasons. Government-appointed civil servants will run voting booths and police and soldiers will more easily be able to enter voting stations.

The government says the changes are designed to prevent intimidation by the PKK. But opposition leaders see the measures as making the voting system less transparent and allowing the government to move ballot boxes from opposition strongholds. (Jurist)

Turkey: UN report details extensive human rights violations

Routine extensions of the state of emergency in Turkey 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—according to a report issued by the UN Human Rights Office on March 20. (OHCHR)

Turkish court sentences journalists to prison

A Turkish court sentenced 14 staff of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet to prison on terrorism charges for up to seven years—including several journalists and a cartoonist. They are accused of supporting three outlawed groups through their coverage: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). (MEE,  Hurriyet)

Note: It is doubtful that the FETÖ actually exists, and it would certainly be unlikely to make common cause with Kurdish revolutionaries like the PKK or armed left like the DHKP-C.

UN rights chief calls for end to Turkish state of emergency

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for Turkey to lift its state of emergency restrictions Wednesday in order to hold credible elections it has planned next month.

Turkey renewed its state of emergency for the seventh time on April 19 since it first did in June 2016, suspending several articles of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including ones that include freedoms of expression, assembly, association and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein noted this tension between pulling these obligations and holding a credible election.

Zeid said: "Over the past two years, through successive states of emergency, the space for dissent in Turkey has shrunk considerably, with at least 29 more journalists jailed on terrorism offenses in just the last week of April alone …It is difficult to imagine how credible elections can be held in an environment where dissenting views and challenges to the ruling party are penalized so severely." (Jurist)