In Turkey, human rights defenders are subjected to government repression, which targets all those who address "sensitive" subjects such as the Kurdish issue and human rights violations committed by the State and the Army.
Together with journalists, intellectuals or writers who take a stand on these issues, human rights defenders have been subjected to severe repression as the political environment in Turkey became more radical in particular after the 1999 parliamentary elections. The tough political stance, mainly due to the still central role of the military, was translated into a disturbing increase in nationalistic tendencies in the two years following the elections, relayed through the official media.
In August 2002, important legislative reforms were adopted during the negotiations to prepare for Turkey’s accession into the European Union. These reforms have begun to broaden the political environment. Changes include the abolition of capital punishment, an amendment that authorizes radio and television broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish, an amendment that allows the teaching in one’s mother tongue in private schools and the insertion of human trafficking as a punishable crime in the Turkish Penal Code.
These reforms also introduce changes with respect to freedom of association, which is explained later in he report. The current advances are limited, however, and their impact can only be evaluated once they are implemented. Human rights defenders have been subjected to many forms of repression including legal prosecution, difficulties for the associations to register, closures of associations, illegal searches and seizures of documents, slander and libel campaigns by the official media, etc.
The following arsenal of repressive laws supporting these measures is particularly restrictive in terms of freedom of speech, association and assembly:
Law N° 2908 of 1983 on associations (explained in further detail later in the report);
Article 159 of the Penal Code prohibiting any "insult to the Republic, the Parliament, the Government, State Ministers, the Army, the security forces and the Judiciary".
The Anti-Terror Law N°3713 article 8, in particular, prohibiting "all propaganda, meetings, and marches with the aim of damaging the unity of the Turkish State".
Article 256 of the Penal Code prohibiting illegal possession of documents.
Law N° 2911 of 1983 on demonstrations requiring prior authorization from authorities to organize peaceful meetings or demonstrations1.
Using the law to sanction defenders of human rights has become common practice in Turkey. Human rights defenders are frequently subjected to legal persecution in Turkey and find themselves unable to exercise their rights as they are defined in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders2 and guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Paris and the documents adopted in regard to the human dimension of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)- all three of which have been adhered to by Turkey.
Some examples3 :
Mr. Alp Ayan, psychiatrist and member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) and Mehmet Barindik, a representative of the Limter-Is Trade Union were sentenced to one year in prison by the Penal Court N°4 on June 6, 2002, for denouncing the living conditions in F-type4 prisons. The decision was based on article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code. Their case was sent to the Supreme Court for appeal. Another suit has been filed against Mr. Ayan on the same legal grounds for attending a meeting in February 2002, to protest against the Ftype prisons and for his statements on this issue during a press conference.
In August 2002, 46 members of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD) were charged with violating article 526/1 of the Penal Code (non-respect of official orders) in connection to a police raid that took place at IHD headquarters in January 2001, during which "banned" documents were found.
At the beginning of 2001, a panel organized by the Konya branch of the human rights organization Mazlum-Der entitled "Education and Human Rights" was banned by the governor. The decision was based on Law No. 2911 on meetings and demonstrations.
Human rights defenders active in Southeastern Turkey or who dare to denounce violations committed against the Kurdishpeople and promote their rights are especially targeted. They are accused of undermining the unity of the Turkish State or of supporting illegal organizations, such as the PKK5, which is considered a terrorist organization. These types of accusations are increasing in scale in the current political context; governments are now able to use the fight against terrorism as a pretext to justify undermining fundamental freedoms. It is worth noting that, in most cases, numerous charges are brought simultaneously against human rights defenders. This is supported by the example of Osman Baydemir, the former vice-president of the IHD6, who has had 144 charges brought against him, 36 of which are currently under investigation.
The issue of freedom of association is of utmost importance in view of the debate on the application of Turkey to the European Union. The recent violations listed in the present report affect the most fundamental rights : freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of association, of peaceful meeting and demonstration. The role granted to independent associations in the Turkish society and the acceptance of checks-and-balances necessary to the building of the Rule of Law are at stake. Turkey must revert the current trend and guarantee associative freedoms in all circumstances. This will enable us to measure the will of Turkey to effectively implement democratic principles and practices which are one of the pillars of the European Union. This report illustrates the obstacles encountered by human rights defenders in Turkey through the observation of the trial of Mr. Sezgin Tanrikulu, a representative of the HRFT Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the FIDH and the OMCT, sent Ms. Laurence Roques, a lawyer of the Val de Marne Bar Association (France) to attend the trial on March 19, 2002 in Diyarbakir.
This report also includes an analysis of the Turkish legislation concerning freedom of association, illustrated by a recent example, the case of the IHD Bingöl branch.