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Turkey: Close Scrutiny of Elections Warranted
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
(October 28, 2002)

Turkey's parliamentary elections scheduled for November 3 will present an important test for the country, just one month before the European Union's Copenhagen summit, at which the E.U. is expected to give Turkey a signal about its prospects for membership in the Union.

Reports of political rights violations in this year's pre-electoral campaign, and the extensive record of abuses by police, gendarmes, and local government officials during the April 1999 election campaign and polls, indicate that independent scrutiny of the upcoming vote, particularly in the southeast of the country, is important.

In a positive sign, for the first time Turkey has accepted election observer missions from both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).

A Human Rights Watch delegation is also in Turkey and will be present to document events over the election period. They will also hold a press conference marking the release of a new Human Rights Watch report, Displaced and Disregarded: Turkey's Failing Village Returns Program, which describes the plight of those displaced by the fifteen-year conflict in the southeast and the persistent obstacles to their return. This event will take place at the Taxim Hill Hotel on Taksim Square, Istanbul, at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 30. For further information, please contact Jonathan Sugden at tel.: +90-532-598 0771 or Dorit Radzin at tel.: +1-202-612-4322 or email:

Turkey's Record on Elections: the 1999 Parliamentary Elections
During the campaign period prior to the last general election on April 18, 1999, Human Rights Watch received reports of harassment of various parties, including the religious Fazilet ("Virtue") Party and leftist parties ("Freedom and Democracy Party" and "Labor Party"). Most reports of harassment related, however, to treatment of HADEP ("People's Democracy Party"), which has a mainly Kurdish membership.

The harassment seemed to reflect an official policy to restrain HADEP's electoral campaigning activities. On April 6, 1999, the newspaper Radikal reported the Diyarbakır provincial governor Nafız Kayalı as saying: "But we are keeping HADEP under supervision. We are not letting them open offices." Indeed, on March 26, 1999, nine HADEP election offices in Diyarbakır were closed down. Human Rights Watch received copies of statements by HADEP officials present at the closures. They said that police confiscated flags and posters, and insulted, threatened, and forcibly ejected party members without giving any grounds for their action. When asked to present a written order, the police replied that it was a verbal order and that they could show no legal grounds for the closure.

A report published by the Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association (HRA) on April 12, 1999 gave details of harassment that HADEP and other parties faced in the six weeks preceding the 1999 vote. The report documented the detention of 551 HADEP officials and members, fifty-seven of whom were committed to prison. In most cases, no reason was given for their detention. In others, people were accused of breaking the Law on Demonstrations, "illegally distributing carnations," or similar trumped-up charges. Some were accused of grave offenses under the Anti-Terror Law.

According to the HRA report, many of those detained testified that police had threatened them and told them to leave the party or give up campaigning. Cemal Veske, the HADEP mayoral candidate for Mardin, was detained along with seventeen party members on March 20, 1999. He reported that police had told the detainees, "We will not let you win the election so you must resign from the party." Others reported being subjected to threats, insults, and ill-treatment. Gülistan Durç, provincial chairperson of HADEP in Mardin, was detained on March 25. She reported that police beat her and poured sewage over her. Three days before, Durç had made a formal complain of police harassment to the Mardin public prosecutor. The HRA report describes police confiscation of election materials from the Labor and Virtue parties as well as HADEP.

The U.S. State Department's Annual Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999 records restrictions on HADEP's election campaigning activities, noting that Murat Bozlak, the president of HADEP, was prevented from entering any of the five southeastern provinces under the state of emergency rule, and that party officials were unable to enter certain villages in the region. The State Department report also mentions that the Diyarbakır governor cancelled HADEP's April 13, 1999 election rally in Diyarbakır at twenty minutes' notice, rather than the seventy-two hours required by law. This short notice not only prevented the party from making a legal objection to the ban, but also meant that the large crowd that had already gathered had suddenly become an illegal assembly. Police dispersed the crowd with violence, seriously injuring several people.

The detention of HADEP members interfered with their campaigning activities and, in some cases, prevented them from voting altogether. In a number of cases, identity cards were confiscated in the days prior to the election so that the individuals in question could not vote. In other cases, HADEP members were held in police custody through the election day. Mehmet Zeki Dogrul, a parliamentary candidate for Diyarbakır, was detained on April 13, 1999, held at Diyarbakır Police Headquarters without access to legal counsel for eight days on unspecified grounds, and released two days after the election.

There were reports of entire rural communities being instructed by gendarmes not to cast votes for HADEP. Abdullah Hakan, a municipal candidate in the Gevaş district of Van, told Human Rights Watch that villagers at Göründü village had complained to him in the days prior to the election that gendarmes had told them that if votes were cast for HADEP, the village would be evacuated and burned. (Security forces evacuated and burned hundreds of villages during the course of their conflict with the illegal armed group Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) from 1984 to 1999).

Rukneddin Hakan, the secretary of the central Van branch of HADEP and a parliamentary candidate, told Human Rights Watch that when he went to his home village of Yanıkçay during the 1999 election period, athe local gendarmerie commander detained him and told him that if he did not leave the village he would be killed. An influential local figure (whose name was given to Human Rights Watch but is withheld for his safety) was reportedly called to the gendarmerie near Yanıkçay and told that if any votes were cast for HADEP in the village, "it would be the worse for him." Hakan complained to Van Police Headquarters about this intimidation, but was told that since it occurred in a rural area, it was not within the police's sphere of competence to address.

There were also serious reports that the ballots themselves had been interfered with. Ismet Aksahin, president of the Ergani local branch of HADEP, showed Human Rights Watch examples of partially burned ballot papers (cast for HADEP) that children had found while playing in the town garbage dump in the days after the election. (A photograph of a burned ballot cast for HADEP is available on the Human Rights Watch website at HADEP officials alleged that the ballots had been taken from ballot boxes and destroyed. A large number of HADEP representatives officially appointed to observe at polling stations was arrested on the day of the election. Cabbar Leygara, mayor of the Bağlar district of Diyarbakır, complained to Diyarbakır local government officials about the election-day detention of sixty-three people at polling stations in the Diyarbakır area, including twenty-three ballot-box officials appointed

to observe the fairness of the poll and six HADEP members officially delegated for the same purpose.

Other information compiled by Leygara indicates that on the day of the election there were many reports of villagers being required to cast "open" votes, showing their votes to security forces before putting them in the ballot box. "Open" voting was reported from Usulca, Hendek, Yayvantepe, and Hersin villages near Ergani; the Molla district of Lice; Şükürlü village in Çınar district; and Aralık, Köseli, and Sarıtoprak villages in Bismil district. When an ATV news team went to the village of Aşağıkonak in Çınar district, another location where villageguards had allegedly required villagers to cast "open" votes, the team was reportedly forcibly thrown out of the village. Gendarmes also detained local candidate Musa Farisoğulları and his attorney Abdullah Yavuz, and threatened and ejected them from the village.

A villager (who asked for his name to be withheld to protect his safety) told Human Rights Watch that gendarmes required voters in Pargan and Giresur villages in the Çatak district of Van, which that had produced a particularly high vote for HADEP in the 1995 elections, to show their votes before putting them in the ballot box. The villager also stated that votes were cast in Demirkazı, Çatlıca, Mendaskan, Batkan, and Sincal villages despite the fact that they had been completely evacuated and were empty.

In some cases, gendarmes apparently carried out their threats to punish those they perceived as responsible for a strong HADEP vote. Two days after a HADEP mayor was elected in the 1999 election in the town of Çarıklı, near Diyarbakır, uniformed gendarmes detained Fesih Demir, a member of the local HADEP board. According to his account to Human Rights Watch, the gendarmes insulted him for "turning this into a HADEP town," took him to vacant ground near the village of Fabrika, removed his shoes, and beat the soles of his feet. The gendarmes then told him to remove his trousers and underwear and lean over a rock. A master sergeant then beat him repeatedly on the buttocks with a stick. The master sergeant told Demir that they were going to kill him because he had helped HADEP win the local authority. Demir's injuries were documented by the Diyarbakır treatment center of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, and he submitted a formal complaint against the gendarmes for the abuse he had suffered. The prosecution of a group of gendarmerie officers in connection with the case is still pending.

Pre-Election Conditions in 2002
Troubling developments reminiscent of the abuses in the run-up to the previous election, have already emerged in the current pre-election period. The Rights and Freedoms Party (Hak-Par) and HADEP have already been threatened with closure, and due to these threats, HADEP has withdrawn its candidates from the election. Three former party leaders, Akın Birdal (Socialist Democrat Party), Murat Bozlak (HADEP), and Necmettin Erbakan (Welfare), as well as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK), have been stripped of their political rights and excluded from the race because of prison sentences imposed for their expression of non-violent views. In recent days, attempts by the Turkish Communist Party and the Freedom and Solidarity Party to hang posters have been met with threats and detention by police officers, and there have also been detentions of candidates from the mainly Kurdish DEHAP (Democratic People's Party, formed by former HADEP members, and members of the Labor Party and Socialist Democrat Party) and Hak-Par. Abdülmelik Fırat, the leader of Hak-Par, has been detained twice and was told by the prosecutor of Diyarbakır State Security Court that he will be charged with "making separatist propaganda." There have also been press reports of villagers in the southeast being threatened by security forces not to cast votes for DEHAP.

In light of the foregoing, Human Rights Watch believes that the presence of observers from the Council of Europe and the OSCE, particularly in the southeastern provinces, is crucial and may help prevent abuses in the context of the November 3 elections. Human Rights Watch welcomes the Turkish government's decision to invite the monitors and urges the government to ensure full official cooperation with their activities.