Turkey: Administrative harassment weaponised to silence civil society

Yıldız Tar/Kaos GL

Ankara, Brussels, Paris, June 27, 2022 — In Turkey, administrative harassment is used as a weapon to intimidate civil society, as documented in a report published today by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights-FIDH and the World Organisation against Torture -OMCT) and their member organisation, the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği, IHD). The release of the report coincides with the resumption of the trial of human rights lawyer and IHD co-Chair Öztürk Türkdoğan before the Ankara 60th Criminal Court of First Instance.

The report, titled Drowned in Procedure, Sentenced to Fail: Administrative Harassment Against Civil Society in Turkey, sheds light on the crackdown against human rights defenders, civil society actors, and independent voices in Turkey. It demonstrates that State bodies use administrative proceedings and sanctions to silence and stigmatise human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Turkey in retaliation for their human rights work.

The report argues that administrative harassment deserves attention due to its impact both on affected NGOs and human rights defenders, and on the wider civil society through a chilling effect. It is based on a wide range of information and data gathered by the Observatory and IHD, and direct testimonies from civil society actors and other stakeholders in Turkey who have first-hand experience of administrative harassment’s repercussions for the work of NGOs and human rights defenders. The report focuses on the period following the enactment of Law No. 7262 on the Prevention of Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in December 2020, which introduced several problematic amendments to civil society-related legislation.

“Several cases attacking civil society organisations have been filed as a result of administrative audits, demonstrating how they are instrumentalised by the government to judicially harass NGOs,” declared Reyhan Yalçındağ, Vice-President of FIDH and IHD representative. “Such harassment shamelessly aims to silence civil society, in blatant violation of people’s right to freedom of association.”

Smear campaigns and stigmatisation

Smear campaigns targeting human rights defenders and NGOs for their lawful activities are perpetrated by both State officials and pro-government media.

“Civil society actors in Turkey face an increasingly hostile discourse. Kurdish human rights defenders are regularly labelled as terrorists; feminists and LGBTI+ rights defenders are accused of destroying national values by spreading ‘gender ideology’; and NGOs and media that receive international funding are labelled as foreign agents promoting Western interests and propaganda,” declared Elena Crespi, Head of FIDH’s Western Europe desk, on behalf of the Observatory. “This can delegitimise NGOs and defenders in the eyes of society and creates a climate of complacency that encourages administrative bodies to abuse their authority over civil society.”

IHD leadership targeted

Today’s hearing in the criminal case against Öztürk Türkdoğan is a prime example of the dangerous implications of administrative harassment against defenders. The case against Mr. Türkdoğan was filed as a result of an administrative audit of IHD. Mr. Türkdoğan was recently acquitted of two other charges, one of which was also brought following the same audit. These cases were filed against a backdrop where the Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, directly targeted IHD. This exemplifies how administrative bodies - encouraged by the stigmatising discourse against civil society fuelled by the Turkish government - abuse the legal, administrative, and financial framework to harass human rights defenders and NGOs and pave the way for further harassment by the judiciary.

In light of these findings, the Observatory and IHD formulate several recommendations to the government of Turkey and international actors, aiming to give voice to the legitimate concerns raised by civil society and human rights defenders in Turkey.

Broader context of shrinking civic space

This report completes a three-part series on shrinking civic space in Turkey, produced under the auspices of the EU-funded programme "Comprehensive Support to Human Rights Defenders in Turkey." The programme, managed by a consortium of NGOs, led by FIDH and including OMCT Europe, aims to support and build capacity for civil society and human rights defenders in Turkey, including through documentation of the challenging situations they face. The first report, published in July 2020, examined freedom of assembly, while the second report, published in May 2021, focused on freedom of association.

The report is available at the following links: on FIDH’s website in English and Turkish; on OMCT’s website in English and Turkish; on IHD’s website in English and Turkish.

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