Human Rights Situation in Turkey: Interview with Mr. Osman İşçi

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(Brussels, October 14, 2015) A peaceful protest on the streets of Ankara ended in tragedy on the 10th of October 2015, leaving scores of people dead and wounded, a country in disunity, and a climate of fear overshadowing the forthcoming November elections.

In the wake of this, FIDH met in Brussels with Osman İşçi from its member organization in Turkey, Insan Haklari Dernegi (Human Rights Association) (IHD). Mr. İşçi shared his observations on the overall situation, the increase of violence over the past three months, the effects on human rights defenders and the latest anti-terror laws put in place.

How has the situation deteriorated these last three months?

Since the 24th of July, 241 civilians lost their lives in armed clashes with police forces. This without counting casualties among police forces, soldiers, PKK members. In total, about 3000 people have been arrested since then and 300 people have been imprisoned.

Why and how did these arrests occur? Because we have a legislation called “Domestic Security Package,” that came into effect the 5th of April. This legislation allows police to raid any house, car, workplace and building, without any order from the court or public prosecutor’s office. It also authorizes police to use their guns and to prevent any gathering that is thought to be against public order. Seeing this, you can get an idea of the severe violation of right to life and severe violation of freedom of assemblies, because over 1000 assemblies were banned or intervened by police forces.

One of the high-ranking, prominent journalists, Ahmet Hakan, was beaten in front of his house because of statements against him. Similarly, Dicle News Agency was blocked 24 times in a period of 3 months. Temporary security zones have been declared. Almost all of the South east region is either under temporary security zones or curfew, and curfew is something common now, it has become part of our daily lives.

During the curfew in Cizre, 23 civilians were killed, among them a PKK member whose body was dragged. The police forces took some pictures, they recorded a video, and then circulated it, tweeted it, and then sent a message to the family saying “come and get your relative now.” The important thing is there was minimal action by authorities and no effective investigations were launched into the killings.

What has been the Turkish government’s reaction?

When this violence started, the president said “if police hesitate to use guns to prevent any action, any demonstration, they will pay for these non-actions, these hesitations.” Similarly he said, those who are so called intellectuals, so called NGO representatives, will pay for what they are doing. And now we are paying. Because, we, as NGO representatives, human rights defenders, trade unions, tried to organize a demonstration for peace, we took the threats, and then there was this attack.

If you combine these issues, you can get an idea of the political atmosphere, which encourages not democracy, rule of law, human rights, or peace, but violence and encourages those who are extremists.

I’m not saying that it is the prime minister or the president that sent this bomber to the scene, but no one can 100% say that these statements have no influence over this extremism, this violence. Because if you as the prime minister say “I will not talk to the HDP or another political party,” when there is an attack on the whole country, if you associate this group of people with violence, with terror, with extremism, then you give a message. And those working on the ground, those who are extremists, receive a message and then lead into these violent actions.

What are the impacts of the government’s utilisation of counter-terror laws on the Kurds?

There is a mentality, which is based on one nation, one language, one flag, which is monolithic. It is written and defined in the Constitution. Plus, we have a mentality, when I say we, I’m referring to the whole country. Unfortunately, there is a mentality of mono culture. You do not pay attention to those who are different, to those that have different identities.

If there are different people in a society, namely the Kurds, Arabs, Greeks, Christians, Armenians, Syrians, Jewish people and if you insist on one nation, one culture, one language, one flag, these are all constructed concepts. That means there is clash between your argument and the reality.

So you have two options. You either change your policy and recognize these rights, respect your obligations, or you attack on them. In order to attack them, you need legislation that defines the capacity or authorises officials to act. You need political will to support this legislation and its implementation. And in order to prevent any kind of effective investigation, you need to create a judicial system which is not impartial, independent, or effective, but which is selective and subjective. It is what we have. Plus you create a media, which is not free and which does not question. If there are media companies which question, you put pressure on them, you block their websites, you imprison them, you take them to court. It is how the system works.

If there is no reaction from the international community of why all these violations take place and why all these violations occur, you feel okay. If there is no accountability for all these violations, you feel okay to continue and maintain the policies. This is what happens when you do not pay attention to differences, do not recognize them, and do not obey your obligations.

How should the international community react?

The international community, the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations should have taken a strong position before this latest tragedy and played their role, putting pressure on a government violating our rights. Strong reactions should already have been issued on April 5th, when the “Domestic Security Package” came into law.

This ‘passive positioning’ actually helps foster violence. After the bombing in Diyarbakir on June 5th and in Suruc on July 20th, there was no reaction. This led to the deadly attack in Ankara. We had warned of the risk of violence if no action was undertaken.

However, the international community can do something now and stand by the people who lost their lives, peacefully protesting for a recognition of their rights. We ask the international community to ‘pick up the flag where it has fallen’, otherwise we will see more violence.
We ask the international community to ensure the Turkish authorities find those responsible and make them accountable. We need an inclusive, comprehensive, and neutral approach to this terrible attack, this includes launching an effective, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation.

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