Turkish government continues journalistic suppression, prosecution of reporters

By: Justin D. Santabarbara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East 

ISTANBUL, Turkey – On 2 September, Turkish security officials arrested Çagdas Erdogan for allegedly photographing the National Intelligence Agency building. Upon the initial court appearance on 3 September, Turkish officials accused Erdogan of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has long been categorized as a domestic terrorist organization by the Turkish government. Moreover, the charges against Erdogan are tailed toward committing acts of terrorism as a member of the PKK, rather than a photojournalist who took illegal pictures. Moreover, Turkish prosecutors have carefully made the distinction between the charges placed against Erdogan and less severe “mistakes”.

Turkish photojournalist Cagdas Erdogan. Photo courtesy of Twitter @cgd_erd.

The International Committee to Protect Journalists has vocally expressed its displeasure with the investigation. “Photographing a building is not even a crime, much less an act of terrorism,” exclaimed the Committee’s Executive Director, Robert Mahony, at a recent press conference. Additionally, the International Committee to Protect Journalists has launched a number of other initiatives, including appealing to the international human rights community for support and requesting that sanctions be placed against the Turkish government for suppressing members of the media. Further, Erdogan’s extensive photojournalistic coverage of the Kurdish conflict is said to have subjected him to additional scrutiny. Aside from his alleged membership in the PKK, Erdogan is said to have been critical of the Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurdish population and the rejection of their participation in the policymaking process. Erdogan’s work is not only highly critical of the collective Turkish government, but also the security forces’ gross violation of human rights in the Kurdish regions – alleging the involvement of enforced disappearances and torturous detainment of Kurds, regardless of their purported membership in the PKK.

Erdogan’s prosecution marks the continuation of a concerted effort by the Turkish government to suppress journalistic interests under a veil of national security. There is little determinative evidence of a time frame for prosecutions against journalists. For example, Turkish prosecutors just tried thirty journalists after they were held for 414 days after their arrest. Although the trials continue to be pending, past cases have shown that prosecutors often seek lengthy prison terms, despite criticism from the international community.

Though the majority of the cases receive adverse dispositions, there are limited instances in which the international pressures influence a humanitarian release, such as the release of French journalist Loup Bureau on 18 September, who spent seven weeks in Turkey after his arrest for criticism of the Turkish government. Although the future remains uncertain for Erdogan, an intense effort by the international community has shown to have positive effects, when conducted appropriately. It will be important to note how long the Turkish government waits before progressing in the trial.

For more information, please see:

France 24 – French journalist Loup Bureau arrives home after being released from Turkish jail – 18 September 2017

Turkish Minute – 30 Zaman journalists appear in court after 414 day detention – 18 September 2017

British Journal of Photography – Cagdas Erdogan arrested in Istanbul – 14 September 2017

 

Merkel takes stronger stance against Turkey for detaining Germans

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a decisive reaction to Turkey’s arrest of two more German citizens on Friday, September 1st.

The detainees are being held in Turkey on political charges. They join the twelve others who have been imprisoned in Ankara since February.

Chancellor Merkel believes that under the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to “carry out further discussions with Ankara about its participation in a European Union customs union.”

The Turkish government has been working towards becoming a European Union member for several years. As a result of political turmoil starting with the failed coup d’etat in 2016, the country has not succeeded with their bid.

Tensions between Turkey and Germany have been rising since the arrests of human rights activists in February. Deniz Yucel has been held for 200 days in Turkey on charges of “terror propaganda.”

Later, German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and nine others were detained and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

And in early August, Dogan Akhanli, Turkish-German critic of Turkey’s President Erdogan, was arrested in Spain. It remains unclear on what charges Mr. Akhanli is being held on. German Member of Parliament Volker Beck requested that Mr. Akhanli not be extradited to Turkey.

Other Europeans have been arrested in Turkey over alleged involvement in last year’s failed coup against President Erdogan.

Leaders across Europe have denounced President Erdogan’s actions. Germany has already threatened to place travel and trade restrictions on Turkey if the activists are not released from detainment.

The newest arrests come at a turbulent time in German politics. On September 24th, Germans will go to the polls to either re-elect Chancellor Merkel for a fourth term or to replace her.

President Erdogan earlier in August called on Turkish-German voters to boycott the two main parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. Erdogan also suggested a boycott of the Green Party, believing them to be “enemies of Turkey.”

It remains to be seen what the results of the election will be. But Chancellor Merkel and her main opponent, Martin Schulz, do agree on one thing: suspending talks of Turkey’s EU customs union bid.

“This is a development of dramatic significance,” Mr. Schulz stated at a recent campaign event. “As part of [Erdogan’s] paranoid counter-putsch, he is reaching out for our citizens on the territory of European Union states.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Turkey detains two Germans in relation to Gulen probe – 1 September 2017

Reuters – Germany may ‘rethink’ Turkey ties after two more Germans detained: Merkel – 1 September 2017

CNN – Germany accuses Turkey of arresting 2 more Germans for “political reasons” – 1 September 2017

BBC News – Time to ‘rethink’ turkey relations, says Merkel – 1 September 2017

Reuters – German writer critical of Turkey’s Erdogan arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Erdogan critic Dogan Akhanli arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Q&A: Turkey and the EU – 6 October 2004

 

German Foreign Ministry advises against travel to Turkey

By: Sara Adams 
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Germany’s Foreign Minister speaks at a press conference on July 20. Image courtesy of AP.

BERLIN, Germany – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel advised citizens against traveling to Turkey, in a time of rising tension between the two countries.

The tension comes from Turkey’s actions since the failed coup against the government in 2016. In the past year, the Turkish government has arrested at least 50,000 people, including journalists and opposition members. Of those, 22 have been German citizens.

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was among those arrested in the past year. He was detained on terror charges in February. Six of the human rights activists arrested in June were jailed in Turkey on July 18 while they await trial.

The jailing of the activists is what some are saying triggered Berlin to issue a warning against travel to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have become a key topic as Germany approaches a general election in September. Foreign Minister Gabriel is part of the Social Democrats, a rival to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Despite the rivalry, Chancellor Merkel has backed the Foreign Minister’s warning against traveling to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Gabriel is reviewing the relations between the two countries. While he says that Germany “wants Turkey to become part of the west,” he also urged that “it takes two to tango.”

Germany is considering review of an export credits system that benefits Turkey. They are also considering how to handle Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, Turkey has stated that it will “reciprocate” what it calls “blackmail and threats” by Berlin. The Turkish Foreign Ministry blames the tensions on Germany’s “double-standard attitude” toward Turkey.

Counsel of Europe’s Secretary General Throbjorn Jagland joins the calls for freeing the prisoners in Turkey.

“Human rights defenders should be able to fulfill their activities freely without being subject to arbitrary interferences by the authorities,” he said in a statement on June 20.

Continuing, the Secretary General stated that the lack of evidence against those jailed can lead to “fear, self-censorship and a chilling effect on Turkish civil society.”

Even so, the government in Ankara continues to hold steadfast to their own judicial processes.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that “the independent Turkish judiciary must be trusted.”

The Ministry strongly condemned any suggestion that German citizens were not safe when traveling to Turkey.

“There is no such thing,” the Turkish Foreign Minister said. “as far as the judiciary could establish [those arrested were] not ordinary visitors, [but] people who engaged in illegal or suspicious activities.”

For more information, please see: 

BBC News – Germany warns citizens of Turkey risks amid arrests – 20 July 2017 

The Washington Post – The Latest: Turkey says it would reciprocate German threats – 20 July 2017 

Reuters – Germany warns citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey – 20 July 2017 

AP News – Germany raises pressure on Turkey after activists jailed – 20 July 2017 

LA Times – Turkish court jails an Amnesty director and 5 other human rights activists pending trial – 18 July 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Assault on freedom of expression’: Die Welt journalist’s arrest in Turkey – 28 February 2017  

Turkish authorities detain human rights activists

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Protesters speak out against the arrest of Amnesty International leader Taner Kilic in Turkey. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

ANKARA, Turkey – The government in Turkey detained several human rights activists on July 6 on an island off the country’s coast.

Among those detained were Amnesty International’s Turkey director, Idil Eser. It was left unclear what the individuals are being detained for. But in June, Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was arrested along with 22 lawyers for alleged membership in a “terrorist” group.

The crackdown on human rights supporters comes from last year’s failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan. The government believes that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen staged the coup.

Gulen exiled himself from Turkey in 1999, and has lived in Pennsylvania since. He has denied that he was involved in the coup. Gulen has been outspoken against the Turkish government previously.

Critics argue that President Erdogan is using last July’s failed coup and its subsequent State of Emergency as a means of suppressing dissent against his administration.

At least 50,000 people opposing Erdogan have been arrested under his authority. It has been reported that more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs.

Though it is not yet a member of the European Union, Turkey has been in the process of gaining EU membership for several years. Talks have been ongoing since 2005. In November 2016, the European Parliament voted to suspend discussions with Turkey regarding entry into the EU.

Debate has raged between European Parliament members regarding the best way to strengthen Turkey’s democratic processes. However, the EU has been weary of allowing Turkey into the Union due to the country’s stances on human rights and the death penalty.

The Turkish government’s crackdown expands beyond human rights activists and those who openly oppose President Erdogan. In June 2017, about 44 people were detained during an LGBT Pride march in Istanbul.

Turkish law enforcement used tear gas and plastic bullets against the people who attempted to gather for the parade.

The European High Commission for Human Rights (EHCR) condemned the actions. Commissioner Nils Muiznieks stating that “although a demonstration may annoy or cause offense to persons oppose to the ideas…This cannot serve as an admissible ground for prohibiting a peaceful gathering.” He also called the reports of police violence as “worrying”.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has openly spoken against Erdogan for arrests of the group’s leaders. The group’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, called the detainment “profoundly disturbing.”

“This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country,” he added.

Despite critics, President Erdogan still remains more popular than not in Turkey. In April 2017’s referendum, 51.4% voted to expand the president’s executive power.

Amnesty International continues to call for the release of the detainees.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Amnesty calls for release of rights activists held in Turkey – 6 July 2017

The New York Times – Turkey Detains a 2nd Amnesty International Leader – 6 July 2017

BBC News – Turkey police hold rights activists including Amnesty chief – 6 July 2017

The Telegraph – Turkey police detain Amnesty director and 12 other rights activists – 6 July 2017

CBS – Turkish police arrest dozens at Istanbul’s banned LGBT pride event – 26 June 2017

The Guardian – Turkey arrests Amnesty International head and lawyers in Gulenist sweep – 6 June 2017

BBC News – Turkey referendum: Vote expanding Erdogan powers ‘valid’ – 17 April 2017

The New York Times – Turkey and E.U. Near Breaking Point in Membership Talks – 23 November 2016

Ceasefire in Syria Leads to Conflicting Reports of Reduced Violence

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — An agreement aimed at reducing violence in Syria went into effect at midnight on Saturday, May 6th. The ceasefire was headed by Russia, which is the strongest ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and backed by Turkey and Iran.

The four “de-escalation zones” cover a total of 2.5 million citizens (Photo courtesy of AlJazeera)

The plan calls for ending hostilities between rebel groups and government forces by creating “de-escalation zones” in the major areas of conflict in western Syria for a period of six months, which could be extended if all three signatory countries agree. Although Russia is permitted to fly over the de-escalation zones, the agreement strictly prohibits the use of weapons and air strikes in those areas.

The ceasefire further calls for the creation of “conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance and return of displaced civilians into their homes.” The Syrian government is required to allow “unhindered” humanitarian aid into rebel-held areas, and must restore services such as water and electricity.

The largest de-escalation zone, in northern Syria, covers a population of over one million and encompasses the Idlib province, which was hit by a chemical attack in early April. The three remaining zones cover the northern Homs province, the eastern Ghouta region, and the area surrounding the Jordanian border in southern Syria, encompassing a total of over 1.5 million citizens. Qaboun, a town in the eastern Ghouta region, is exempt from the deal due to its history as housing the Nusra Front, a group linked to al-Qaeda.

Despite the agreement, however, there have been conflicting reports of its effectiveness. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) stated that it has already started seeing breaches of the deal, mainly in the northern Hama province. A spokesperson for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group, Mr. Mohammed Rasheed, stated that the fighting started after midnight. The SOHR added that fighter jets shot upon al-Zalakiyat, a village held by Syrian rebels, as well as upon the countryside of northern Hama. Mr. Rasheed further noted that barrel bombs were also used in the attacks. He added that “[t]he bombardment has not stopped, it is no different from before[.]” Furthermore, on Saturday, May 6th, less than twenty-four hours after the ceasefire was implemented, four opposition fighters were killed and a child was wounded when a suburb of Damascus was shelled by government forces.

The SOHR, in contrast, also noted that despite the reduction in fighting, that it was still “too early” to determine whether it would last. The director of the SOHR, Mr. Rami Abdulrahman, noted that “[t]he reduction in violence must be clear and lasting[.]”

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera—Syria’s ‘de-escalation zones’ explained—6 May 2017

Washington Post—Syria violence kills 4, wounds child despite safe zones—6 May 2017

Reuters—Syria fighting eases as Russian deal takes effect—6 May 2017

Deutsche Wells—Fighting continues in Syrian ‘safe zones’—6 May 2017

CBS News—Russia’s proposed Syrian “safe zone” deal goes into effect—6 May 2017

Turkish Military Launches Airstrike into Iraq and Syria

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Turkish military released a statement indicating that its military jets attacked fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) with airstrikes on Tuesday, April 25th, in northern Iraq and northeast Syria.

Turkey’s attack, which hit “shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers[,]” was intended to “prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.” (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
Despite the Turkish military’s statement claiming that the attack was carried out “within the scope of international law[,]” it has been characterized as “unusually intense[.]” The statement indicated that the airstrike, which took place before dawn, hit targets on Sinjar mountain in Iraq and a mountainous region in Syria. It noted that the attack was necessary to “prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.” A second statement indicated that the airstrikes hit “shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers[.]”

The spokesperson for the Syrian Kurdish militia, also known as the People’s Protection Units (“YPG”), Mr. Redur Khalil, stated that Turkey’s jets struck their headquarters in the town of Karachok in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassakeh. Mr. Khalil added that the attack caused extensive damage to the headquarters as well as to neighboring civilian property.

The Turkish military’s statement noted that the airstrike killed a minimum of seventy people, with forty militants in Sinjar and thirty in northern Syria being “neutralized.” The YPG, however, stated that the attack killed twenty of its fighters and wounded eighteen more. The mayor of Sinjar, Mr. Mahma Khalil, stated that five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia (“the peshmerga”), who support the fight against the Islamic State (“ISIS”) with the U.S.-led coalition, were also killed in the airstrike.

The YPG is a close ally to the U.S.’s fight against ISIS. However, Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group due to its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels, the PKK, which are being harbored in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The attack attracted immediate international criticism and condemnation. The U.S.-led coalition stated that Iraq’s neighbors must be respectful of state sovereignty and encouraged “all forces to . . . concentrate their efforts on [defeating] ISIS [in Iraq and Syria.]” While Turkey claimed to have notified the U.S. and Russia in advance of the attack, the U.S. State Department indicated that it was “deeply concerned” by the airstrike and that it was not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition. The Foreign Minister of Iraq, Mr. Ahmad Jamal, stated that the airstrike was a “violation” of its sovereignty, and called upon the international community to end Turkey’s “interference[.]” The Syrian Kurdish fighters denounced Turkey’s airstrike, noting that the attack was “treacherous[,]” and accusing Turkey of “undermining the anti-terrorism fight.” Russia, which is a close ally of the Syrian government, also criticized the airstrike by stating that it “hindered efforts to combat [ISIS]” and added that it was “serious[ly] concern[ed]” about the strikes.

For more information, please see:

ABC News—Tensions rise after Turkish attack on Syrian Kurds—26 April 2017

The New York Times—Turkish Strikes Target Kurdish Allies of U.S. in Iraq and Syria—25 April 2017

AlJazeera—Turkey targets Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria—25 April 2017

BBC News—Turkey air strikes on Kurds in Syria and Iraq spark US concern—25 April 2017

The Washington Post—The Latest: Russia slams Turkish strikes in Iraq, Syria—26 April 2017

Boston Herald—Turkey strikes Kurds in Iraq, Syria, drawing condemnation—25 April 2017

 

Turkish Referendum Divides Country After Suspicions of Fraud

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Sunday, April 12th, Turkish citizens voted in a referendum designed to grant comprehensive powers to the president. The outcome of the vote, which has been plagued with allegations of fraudulent ballots, was 51.5 percent in favor of the proposal.

The referendum has sharply divided the country after a narrow 51.5% win (Photo courtesy of Turkish Minute)

The proposal was designed to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an “all-powerful presidency” after eliminating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s current position. Most of the changes proposed in the plan will take effect only after the next election, which is currently scheduled to take place in 2019. However, despite Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek’s denial, there are rumors that Mr. Erdogan will hold the elections sooner to be vested with his new powers immediately.

Once effectuated, several constitutional changes will take place. The president will be granted a five-year tenure, for a maximum term of two years. He will be granted the power to appoint his own cabinet and several vice presidents. He will have the authority to select and remove senior civil servants without approval from the parliament. He will be able to intervene in the judiciary. Furthermore, the president will also be vested with the power to decide whether to impose a state of emergency.

Mr. Erdogan stated that twenty-five million people supported the proposal, with 51.5 percent of voters electing to vote “Yes” in the referendum. Referring to July’s failed coup attempt, Mr. Erdogan stated that the country’s ruling system was being changed for the first time in the history of the Republic through “civil politics[.]”

The three main cities in Turkey, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, along with the southeastern regions, voted “No.” While the tallying process was nearing completion, electoral authorities decided to permit ballots without official stamps to be counted, a decision which the Turkish Bar Association criticized as “illegal[.]” Afterwards, opponents of the referendum questioned the validity of the vote, and urged the authorities to recount the ballots. The head of the Republican People’s Party, Mr. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, which is the main opposing party to Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party, stated that his party would demand a recount of up to sixty percent of the ballots.

Opponents raised several concerns regarding the validity of the election, such as “[s]uspicions of ballot-stuffing[,]” the electoral commission’s decision “to significantly increase the burden needed to prove allegations of ballot-box stuffing[,]” the prevention of over 170 members of the opposition from observing the election, the temporary detainment of international election observers, and allegations of “No” votes being removed from ballot boxes and “deposited in a building site” in southern Turkey.

The referendum results, and questionable voting policies, have divided the country. Mr. Kilicdaroglu accused Mr. Erdogan of seeking a “one-man regime,” while noting that the impending constitutional changes would “put the country in danger.” Residents in affluent neighborhoods of Istanbul flooded the streets in protest, and others banged pots and pans at their homes while noting that the proposal is a “step toward greater authoritarianism.” On the other side of the spectrum, Mr. Bayram Seker, a self-employed citizen who voted “Yes” in Istanbul, stated that the referendum was their opportunity to “take back control of our country[.]” Mr. Seker added that a “one-man rule” is not “scary” as the country had been ruled by one man in the past, namely Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The referendum has also attracted international concern and criticism. The European Union’s executive body stated that the close result in votes should lead the Turkish government to “seek the broadest national consensus in implementing the vote,” and urged a “transparent investigation” into the allegations of fraud. The Council of Europe, which monitored the polls, stated that the voting process “did not live up to its standards.” The former Prime Minister of Belgian, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, stated that the EU should “stop accession talks” if Mr. Erdogan does not “change course” following the “very tight” outcome of the referendum. The MP of Austria, Ms. Alev Korun, stated that there is a suspicion that “up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated[.]” Human Rights Watch noted that the Turkish government should “reverse the decision” because the campaign and election took place under a state of emergency and “in a highly repressive climate” following July’s failed coup attempt.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times—Videos Fuel Charges of Fraud in Erdogan’s Win in Turkey Referendum—18 April 2017

BBC News—Turkey referendum: EU urges Ankara to probe illegal vote claims—18 April 2017

Reuters—Turkey’s Erdogan declares referendum victory, opponents plan challenge—17 April 2017

ABC News—Turkish opposition party files to have referendum voided—18 April 2017

The Washington Post—Why Turkish opposition parties are contesting the referendum results—17 April 2017

Human Rights Watch—Turkey: End State of Emergency after Referendum—17 April 2017

United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017

 

ISIS Releases Video of Two Turkish Soldiers Being Burned Alive

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — The Islamic State (“ISIS”) released a video showing terrorists filming themselves burning two captured Turkish soldiers.

The two Turkish soldiers were burned alive in the video released by ISIS (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)
The two Turkish soldiers were burned alive in the video released by ISIS (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

The 19-minute video released by the terror group is being described as “gruesome,” while the killers are being characterized as “barbarians.” It showed two servicemen with freshly-shaved heads, dressed in fuel-doused camouflage army gear, being dragged from a cage and forced to crawl on their hands and knees by two armed, unmasked ISIS militants, dressed in black clothing and brown suicide vests. Standing barefoot in the middle of a desert with chains around their necks, the soldiers were “connected by the neck to a torched fuse.” With a third terrorist standing guard, the executioner criticized Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and called for “destruction to be sowed” in Turkey. The men were made to stand a few feet from each other, with their backs to the long fuse. One of the militants then pressed a button on a small device, and both men were engulfed in flames shortly thereafter.

The video, titled “The Cross Shield,” was released shortly after Turkey vowed to combat terrorism in Syria when 16 of its troops were killed in battle. Amaq, a news agency linked to ISIS, stated last month that the terror group had captured two Turkish soldiers. The Turkish army had subsequently issued a statement indicating that it had lost contact with two soldiers. The video purportedly accused the Turkish government and President Erdogan of “burning Muslims.” ISIS stated that the executions were “payback” for Turkey’s involvement in the “war against Muslims.”

Following the video’s release, Turkey allegedly blocked access to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to prevent the victims’ families and loved ones from seeing the execution. Turkey Blocks, a website that identifies and verifies reports of mass online censorship, stated that the blocks appeared to be implemented at the ISP level. It further indicated that this blackout was the second in one week, following a shutdown that occurred after the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.

Turkish troops had entered Syria in August with the aim of overthrowing ISIS and Kurdish militia from the border region.

For more information, please see:

New York Post—ISIS burns Turkish soldiers alive—23 December 2016

AlJazeera—ISIL video shows ‘Turkish soldiers burned alive’—23 December 2016

Daily Mail— Sick ISIS savages film themselves burning two Turkish soldiers alive in disturbing new execution video after capturing them in Aleppo—22 December 2016

Reuters—ISIS burns 2 Turkish servicemen alive, releases gruesome video—23 December 2016

 

Russian Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated in Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — An off-duty Turkish police officer shot and killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey while shouting “don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” in an attack that appeared to be backlash against the Russian military’s involvement in Syria.

 

Russian ambassador to Turkey killed in attack in Turkey (Photo courtesy of the USA Today)

The attack on the ambassador, Andrei Karlov, occurred in the capital city of Ankara on the evening of December 19th. Mr. Karlov was shot while delivering a speech at the opening of an art exhibition entitled “Russia Through Turks’ Eyes” at Cagdas Sanat Merkezi. Footage from the scene showed a man dressed in a suit and tie standing calmly behind the ambassador. He then pulled out a gun, and fired eight shots. Mr. Karlov was taken to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries and passed away.

While shooting the ambassador, the man shouted in Arabic: “Allahu akbar! Those who pledged allegiance to Muhammad for jihad!” He then continued shouting in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria! Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”

After the attack, which has been described as an “embarrassing security failure,” Turkish special forces surrounded the gallery, and killed the attacker during a shootout. The Turkish Interior Ministry identified the shooter as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, a police officer in Ankara’s riot police squad. Three others were also injured by Mr. Altintas in the incident.

The assassination took place days after Turkish protests over Russia’s support for the Syrian government, and Russia’s role in the killings and destruction in Aleppo. As a precaution, all Russian tourists in Turkey had been advised against leaving their hotel rooms or visiting public places. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that Turkey would increase security measures around Russian diplomatic buildings and people.

The Turkish Interior Minister, Mr. Suleyman Soylu, offered his condolences to the Russian federation, while Mr. Erdogan called the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to brief him on the attack. During their conversation, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin agreed to cooperate in investigating the assassination and combating terrorism.

Mr. Putin called the killing a “provocation” aimed at sabotaging strengthening ties between Russia and Turkey. He further stated that the attack was an attempt at disrupting Russia’s peace advancement in Syria undertaken with Turkey and Iran.

Russia’s head of the foreign relations committee, Mr. Konstantin Kosachev, stated that the repercussions of the attack would depend on the details of the incident. He noted that while “it could have been a planned terrorist attack by extremists,” it could also have been “the work of a lone maniac.” He indicated that the future of Russia’s relations with Turkey would depend on the motives behind the attack.

The attack on Mr. Karlov cast doubt upon the ongoing evacuation attempts for civilians in Aleppo, which was secured by Russia and Turkey. Mr. Karlov had participated in the discussions with Turkey which had led to the evacuation deal.

For more information, please see:

New York Times—Russian Ambassador to Turkey Is Assassinated in Ankara—19 December 2016

CNN—Russia’s ambassador to Turkey assassinated in Ankara—19 December 2016

The Guardian—Russian ambassador to Turkey shot dead in Ankara art gallery—19 December 2016

The Washington Post—Turkish police officer, invoking Aleppo, guns down Russian ambassador in Ankara—19 December 2016

Hurriyet Daily News—Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov assassinated in Ankara—19 December 2016

 

Turkish Bill Clearing Men Accused of Raping Underage Girls Passes First Parliament Vote

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish parliament approved a preliminary bill which would clear men accused of raping underage girls if they marry her.

Thousands protested a new bill that would clear men accused of raping underage girls (Photo courtesy of Digital Journal)

The bill, which was brought to parliament by President Erdogan’s party, was preliminarily approved on the evening of November 17th. The parliament will debate the bill a second time on November 22nd before casting their final vote.

The Turkish government stated that the bill is designed to pardon men only on the basis of sex that is “without force or threat,” and if the offense was committed before November 11, 2016.

There has been strong opposition to the bill in many parts of the country, including by members of parliament, with many protestors stating that it is an encouragement for rape. Critics of the bill declare that it “legitimizes rape and child marriage,” and that it “lets off men who are aware of their crime.” Parliament member Ozgur Ozel stated that “sexual abuse is a crime” which does not require consent. He added that “seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not provide for.”

It is anticipated that approximately 3,000 men accused of assaulting a girl under 18 will have their convictions repealed if the bill is passed. On Saturday, November 19th, thousands of people attended a demonstration in Istanbul protesting the bill. The crowds, wielding banners stating “#AKP take your hands off my body,” shouted anti-government slogans, declaring “we will not shut up. We will not obey. Withdraw the bill immediately.” Further mass protests are expected if the bill passes following Tuesday’s vote.

The UN Children’s Fund stated that it was “deeply concerned” over the bill. The Fund’s spokesman indicated that “these abject forms of violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such, and in all cases the best interest of the child should prevail.”

The government has defended the bill by stating that its aim is not to excuse rape, but to “rehabilitate” men who may not have realized the unlawfulness of their sexual relations or to prevent underage girls who have sex from “feeling ostracized by their community.” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the bill “is not an amnesty for rape,” and that the country has very “serious punishments for rape.” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag indicated that the bill could help couples who want to marry after engaging in consensual relations. He stated that when a child is born from a non-official union, the mother and child are subjected to financial difficulty because the father will be arrested after the doctor informs the prosecutor.

Turkey has experienced a steep increase in violence against women in the past decade, with 40% of women reporting sexual or physical abuse.

For more information, please see:

Euro News—When is rape not a crime? Turkey considers proposal for controversial sexual abuse law—18 November 2016

Anadolu Agency—Turkish justice minister clarifies law changes—18 November 2016

Ahram Online —Thousands rally against Turkey child sex conviction bill—19 November 2016

BBC News—Turkish bill clears men of statutory rape if they marry—18 November 2016

TRT World—Proposed bill sparks debate in Turkey—18 November 2016

 

Turkish Riot Police Use Tear Gas, Water Cannon and Plastic Bullets to Disperse Protest

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish police have used tear gas, a water cannon, and plastic bullets to disperse a protest against the imprisonment of nine journalists from the secularist opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet.

Turkish police use water cannon to disperse crowds protesting arrests of journalists (Photo courtesy of Newsweek)

The protest took place hours after nine journalists were formally arrested. Approximately 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside a mosque in central Istanbul, shouting slogans denouncing the “fascist” state and vowing not to remain silent. Riot police sprayed freezing water from trucks, fired plastic bullets and used tear gas in an attempt to prevent crowds of protestors from marching to the offices of the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The nine arrested individuals include some of the most prolific journalists of the Turkish press. They were detained as part of an intensifying crackdown on oppositionists by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Following the arrests, the Turkish courts ordered a media blackout, prohibiting the press from reporting on the detention of Cumhuriyet journalists. The newspaper is known for being one of the few media outlets still critical of President Erdogan. Its reporters are suspected of crimes committed on behalf of Kurdish militants and U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of organizing the coup attempt.

The arrests come after the shutdown of over 100 media outlets and detention of dozens of journalists following July’s failed coup attempt. Prominent Turkish journalist, Can Dundar, declared his outrage over the current administration by stating “our ‘crime’ is our writing, our headlines, our news. We will write again. We will write even more…” The government has stated that the crackdown is necessary to identify terrorists, whereas critics of President Erdogan state that he is using the coup as an attempt to defeat the opposition. Recently arrested politicians stated that they are victims of a “civilian coup by the government and the palace.” Furthermore, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party outraged “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to create a Turkey where everyone is in jail?”

The recent wave of opposition arrests has sparked concern among Turkey’s allies. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief stated that she was “extremely worried” over the detentions. The U.S. State Department spokesman noted that there was a “worrisome trend” in Turkey over limiting freedom of speech.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Turkish police use water cannon to disperse protest over journalists’ arrests—5 November 2016

Newsweek—Protesters clash with Turkish authorities in continuing crackdown—5 November 2016

The Independent—Turkish police use water cannon and tear gas to disperse protest against arrest of journalists—5 November 2016

BBC News—Turkey coup aftermath: Pro-Kurdish Istanbul protests broken up—5 November 2016

 

 

 

Turkish Police Accused of Torturing Detainees

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Human Rights Watch published a 43-page report on Tuesday, in which it accuses Turkish police of beating, sexually abusing, and threatening to rape detainees.

Turkish police are being accused of torturing detainees (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

The human rights group said that a “climate of fear” has prevailed since thousands of people were arrested after President Erdogan declared a state of emergency in response to July’s failed coup attempt. The state of emergency has allowed the government to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as it deems necessary. In September 2016, prison monitoring boards were dissolved under an emergency rule decree. The report noted that several new regulations, which infringe on detainees’ rights, have been enacted. These include the extension of the maximum length of police detention without judicial review from four to thirty days, denying detainees access to lawyers for up to five days, restricting detainees’ choice of lawyer, and restricting detainees’ right to confidential conversations with their lawyers.

Human Rights Watch indicated that thirteen alleged cases of abuse had been uncovered, in which the detainees claim abuse of power, sleep deprivation, severe beatings, sexual abuse and threat of rape. These cases were not limited only to alleged coup supporters, but also include detainees suspected of ties to Kurdish militant and leftist groups.

In one case, Human Rights Watch found that several detainees had been forced to undress and were left outside under a “baking sun” for several hours. The case further noted that these detainees were then severely beat by police officers and threatened with sodomy by a baton. In another case, a detainee noted he was blindfolded and then beaten by police. He stated that the police chief “began to slap me in the face and eyes. They beat me on the soles of my feet, on my stomach, then squeezed my testicles, saying things like they’d castrate me.” A further case quotes a detainee as stating that a police officer told him “because of the state of emergency, nobody will care if I kill you.” The report further states that many lawyers are reluctant to represent detainees held in connection with the coup attempt. Attorneys who do represent these individuals are noted as expressing fear that they would become the target of the ongoing crackdown. One lawyer stated that she tried to represent a detained soldier, only to see him repeatedly beaten in front of her. Although she attempted to stop the beating, she was unable to do so and had to turn away out of fear.

The Europe and Central Asia Director of Human Rights Watch stated that “by removing safeguards against torture, the Turkish government effectively wrote a blank check to law enforcement agencies to torture and mistreat detainees as they like.” The organization called on authorities to “immediately rescind” the provisions of the state of emergency decrees which “enable abuse.” Human Rights Watch also urged the Turkish government to permit the U.N. Special Investigator on Torture to visit Turkey.

Mr. Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s Justice Minister, argued that the country is being unfairly accused of torture, while strongly denying ill-treatment of prisoners. He further stated that the Ministry has assembled a task force to investigate all claims.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America—Human Rights Watch Report Accuses Turkish Police of Torture—25 October 2016

Chicago Tribune—Human Rights Watch: Torture reports after failed coup in Turkey—25 October 2016

Independent—Detainees ‘beaten, sexually abused and threatened with rape’ after Turkey coup, Human Rights Watch claims—25 October 2016

Hurriyet Daily News—Human Rights Watch says state of emergency gives Turkey ‘blank check’ to mistreat suspects—25 October 2016

Turkish President Recommends Extension of Country’s Three-Month State of Emergency

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday, September 28th that he is recommending the country’s three-month state of emergency be extended.

President Erdogan recommends extending three-month state of emergency (Photo courtesy of Anadolu Agency)

Under President Erdogan’s direction, the National Security Council convened for an approximately six-hour meeting on September 28th in Ankara. It recommended that the country’s state of emergency be extended beyond its initial three-month period for an additional period of at least ninety days.

The statement issued after the meeting indicated “it has been agreed to recommend an extension of the state of emergency in order to ensure the continuity of the effective implementation of the measures aiming at protecting our democracy, the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of our citizens.”

President Erdogan declared that the country’s fight with terrorism requires more time because it is so “deep” as to not be capable of resolution within three months. He further noted that the country is competing against time and “needs time to be cleared of these terror organizations’ extensions.”

The Turkish Constitution holds that a state of emergency can be declared for a maximum period of six months. To enact a state of emergency, the government must see serious indications of widespread violence that could interfere with Turkey’s democratic environment or its citizens’ basic rights and freedoms as established by the constitution.

The opposition Nationalist Movement Party expressed its support for an extension of the state of emergency. It declared that the fight against those behind the coup attempt was continuing at all levels and that this was “natural and right.” The Party’s leader, Mr. Devlet Bahceli, stated that the “deep cleaning” was continuing and that it would be “overly optimistic to expect it to end in short period.”

Turkish authorities also ordered the closure of at least twelve television states and eleven radio stations which were owned, operated or linked to Kurdish individuals or members of the Alevi religious minority. The stations were shuttered on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

The Turkish government had declared a three-month state of emergency on July 20th following the failed coup attempt, which led to the deaths of over 240 individuals and injured approximately 2,200. At the time, President Erdogan had announced that the three-month state of emergency would enable authorities to act quickly against those responsible for the coup.

The aftermath of the coup attempt and state of emergency has attracted international criticism from international and human rights organizations due to the dismissal of thousands of teachers and court officials, as well as the detention of thousands of police officers and chiefs, journalists and opposition leaders. U.S. State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau had urged “Turkey to abide by its constitutional commitment to fundamental principles such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, due process, judicial independence.” She further went on to declare “these are key parts of any healthy democracy and a key part of Turkey’s own constitution of any healthy democracy.” and a key part of Turkey’s own constitution.”

For more information, please see:

International Press Institute— Turkey shutters at least 20 more TV, radio stations—30 September 2016

NPR—Turkey’s President Recommends Extending State Of Emergency—29 September 2016

Anadolu Agency—Turkey’s security council recommends extending emergency—29 September 2016

Washington Post—To no one’s surprise, Erdogan backs extending Turkey’s state of emergency—29 September 2016

Reuters—Turkey security council to recommend extending state of emergency—28 September 2016

Hurriyet Daily News—State of emergency to be extended by the government—01 October 2016

Turkish Government Arrests Thousands After Failed Coup

By Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Following a failed military coup, the Turkish government has arrested thousands of officials across all levels of society for suspected involvement. Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, stated that reinstating the death sentence was possible for suspected “plotters.”

Military Personnel Detained After Failed Military Coup (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

After the attempted coup was thwarted last Saturday morning, the Turkish government has arrested or detained more than 10,000 military personnel. A portion of those arrested were soldiers directly involved in the failed coup. This has also included 118 generals and admirals.

Along with the military more than 50,000 civil service officials have been arrested, detained, fired, or suspended. Directly following the coup, approximately 3,000 judges and prosecutors were detained or fired. Another 9,000 Ministry of Interior personnel have been suspended. This purge has also reached the education sector with 21,000 teachers having their licenses revoked and 1,500 deans being asked to resign. Multiple broadcasting stations have also had their licenses revoked.

President Erdogan has vowed to punish all responsible for the failed military coup and wouldn’t rule out the death penalty. The death penalty was abolished in 2004 as Turkey made a bid to join the European Union. President Erdogan said if the people wanted the death penalty to return and the Turkish Parliament passed the legislation, then he would uphold the will of the people.

President Erdogan also imposed a three month state of emergency. He said the purpose of the state of emergency was to restore order and capture and punish all involved in the coup. Under the Turkish Constitution, Erdogan would gain the powers to suspend fundamental rights of freedom so long as it doesn’t violate international law. The Turkish government is also going to suspend its participation in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Many within Turkey and around the world have expressed concern with the purge arguing that Erdogan is using the coup as a way to eliminate opposition and consolidate power. A local chef at a restaurant in Istanbul, said Erodgan is setting a trap and will use the coup as a way to gain more power. The United States of America has expressed concern with the expansiveness of the purge particularly against non-military officials. America called on Turkey to preserve the rule of law and democracy. The European Union has stated that if the death penalty were to return, then Turkey would not be allowed to join the European Union.

Erdogan was elected to President in 2014. After winning 52 percent of the vote many argued election fraud. Shortly after the election, Erdogan attempted controversial constitutional amendments to give more powers to the president. Some have argued the purge of the judicial officials after the coup was to replace them with supporters of his constitutional changes.

The attempted coup occurred early last Saturday morning with a faction of the military blocking bridges leading to Istanbul. President Erdogan called on the people to fight off the coup. Later Saturday morning the coup had been defeated with the soldiers involved laying down arms and surrendering. The coup left 300 people dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

Turkey has had multiple military coups it it’s brief history as a country. There were successful military coups occurring in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. The political divide within Turkey pits the secular and western military class against an increasingly conservative and popularly elected Islamist political parties in the country such as President Erdogan’s party, Justice and Development Party.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Turkey coup attempt: Erdogan signals death penalty return — 19 July 2016

CNN — Turkey declares three-month state of emergency — 20 July 2016

CBS News — Thousands jailed after failed Turkey coup — 20 July 2016

NBC News — Turkey’s Parliament to Give Erdogan Sweeping New Powers as Crackdown Widens — 21 July 2016

Reuters — Turkey says no return to past repression despite state of emergency — 21 July 2016

Washington Post — Turkey rounds up thousands of suspected participants in coup attempt — 16 July 2016