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Human Rights Developments

The Turkish government made almost no progress on key human rights reforms in 2000, and failed to take advantage of the opportunity presented by a marked reduction in armed violence by illegal organizations. This was in spite of the strong incentive coming from the European Union, which offered long-awaited recognition to Turkey as a candidate for membership, subject to its meeting human rights conditions. While the government procrastinated, politicians and writers were prosecuted and imprisoned for expressing their nonviolent opinions, and detainees in police custody remained at risk of ill-treatment, torture, or death in custody. A reduction in political violence contributed to a decrease in the overall volume of abuses. There were fewer deaths in custody, suggesting that public and international pressure may have had some inhibiting effect on police interrogators.

The military, still an overriding force in politics, was a factor in holding back change, particularly with regard to freedom of expression. The army publicly aired its views on a wide range of non-military issues, including the selection of presidential candidates, and justified these intrusions by reference to its purported role as guardian of the republic against separatism and religious fundamentalism.

The government, trapped between powerful conservative elements within the state and demands that Turkey fulfil its human rights commitments, equivocated, trying to please both sides. In late 1999, for example, it temporarily released Akin Birdal, imprisoned for a speech he gave while president of the Turkish Human Rights Association, and issued an amnesty for imprisoned and prosecuted journalists; both actions seemed designed to avoid official embarrassment at the E.U. Helsinki Summit in December. Akin Birdal was rearrested in early March, and prosecutions of journalists resumed and continued throughout 2000.

In December 1999 Turkey was finally recognized as an E.U. candidate, but the opening of formal negotiations was conditional on satisfaction of human rights criteria. Apparently inspired by this, an excellent program of urgent reforms was announced in January by the then State Minister with Responsibility for Human Rights Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, but little of the program was actually implemented. In August Turkey signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), but the government indicated that significant reservations might be attached to Turkey's ratification of the covenants.

Six provinces in the southeast of Turkey remained under state of emergency legislation. In 1999 the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) declared that it would abandon armed activities in Turkey, thus reducing the armed turbulence, particularly in the southeast, although some units of the PKK continued sporadic attacks, and there were some clashes between security forces and PKK groups withdrawing to Northern Iraq. Other illegal organizations, including the Workers and Peasants' Army of Turkey (TIKKO), the Islamic Raiders of the Big East-Front (IBDA-C) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), continued their armed activities. Nevertheless, the number of clashes diminished considerably. The Anatolia News Agency reported in May that armed incidents had decreased from 3,300 in 1994, to 1,436 in 1995, to 488 in 1999, to eighteen in the first five months of 2000.

Bülent Ecevit, leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and prime minister since November 1998, continued in office, leading a coalition of the extreme right wing National Action Party (MHP) and the center right ANAP (Motherland Party). In May, Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected president of the republic, replacing Suleyman Demirel, who was nearing the end of his term. Sezer, a judge and former president of theConstitutional Court, had made a series of speeches calling for the constitution and legal system of Turkey to be "cleansed" of their repressive features. He sustained this theme in his inaugural speech in which he said the Turkey could not "meet the demands of a modern society without abandoning the structure and regulations that bring to mind a police state."

Unfortunately, government ministers who applauded his speech took no steps to dismantle the battery of laws that restrict freedom of expression and inhibit political life. Political parties risked closure if they conflicted with the official line on the role of religion and ethnicity in politics. At this writing, the religious Virtue Party (Fazilet) and the mainly Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) were both subject to pending actions for closure in the Constitutional Court. Local HADEP organizations were subject to harassment with members being arbitrarily detained and frequently ill-treated. In February, Feridun Çelik, mayor of Diyarbakir; Selim Özalp, mayor of Siirt; and Feyzullah Karaaslan, mayor of Bingöl, were detained and ill-treated during five days of incommunicado detention. They were remanded to prison but released after four days in response to international pressure.

Although Turkish media and politicians furiously debate many issues and openly criticize the government, those who contradict the official line on the role of ethnicity, religion, or the military in politics risk prosecution and imprisonment. In July a one-year sentence imposed on former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan for a speech he made in March 1994 was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Erbakan was charged under article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code with "incitement to hatred on grounds of race or religion" although his speech contained no advocacy of hatred or violence. Criticism of the government's exclusion from higher education of women who wear the Islamic headscarf resulted in a one-year prison sentence for Hasan Celal Guzel, former Education Minister and leader of the Rebirth Party.

Such convictions under article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code also triggered bans on participation in politics or civil society. Government efforts to reform or abolish article 312 were blocked by the military: Minister of Justice Hikmet Sami Türk explicitly acknowledged the chief of general staff's opposition to amendment of article 312.

Article 312, however, was only one of many laws that inhibited freedom of expression. Prison sentences were also handed down under article 155 for "alienating the people from the institution of military service," article 159 for "insulting state institutions," and article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law for "separatist" statements.

The campaign to restrict the wearing of headscarves for religious reasons in educational settings or on state premises continued unabated, strongly supported by the Office of the Chief of General Staff. This campaign, waged in the name of secularism, resulted in thousands of devout Muslim women being temporarily or permanently denied access to education, while others were suspended or discharged from employment in teaching or health care.

Many cases of torture and ill-treatment were reported by detainees accused of theft and other common criminal offenses as well as those interrogated under the Anti-Terror Law. Blindfolding continued to be routine. Incommunicado detention, condemned by U.N. and Council of Europe specialists as a major factor in torture, was not abolished. There was one reported death in custody.

In recent years, reports by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the U.N. special rapporteur on torture have confirmed the widespread nature of torture in Turkey. In May 2000 the Human Rights Commission of the Turkish Parliament issued six long and detailed reports documenting the persistence of torture. A seventh was published in October. Based on hundreds of interviews conducted during unannounced visits to police stations in the provinces of Istanbul, Batman, Erzincan, Erzurum, Sanliurfa and Tunceli, the commission's work was a model of parliamentary supervision.

In March 2000 the Human Rights Commission interviewed a number of juveniles at the Bakirkoy Prison for Women and Children who had been held at various police stations in Istanbul in the preceding weeks and who described being stripped naked and subjected to electric shocks, hosing with cold water under pressure, beating with a truncheon, falaka (beating on the soles of the feet), and being forced to stand for hours in a chest-high barrel of water. One fourteen-year-old described being interrogated under torture for eight days at Kadikoy Yeldegirmeni Police Station, and told the commission where they could find pickaxe handles used for beating the soles of detainees' feet. When the commission later went to the police station, the instruments were found just as the youngster had indicated.

On the basis of leads given by young people interviewed at Bakirkoy Women and Children's prison, the commission went to Istanbul's Kucukkoy Police Station, located an apparatus used to suspend detainees by the arms, photographed it, and handed the photographs over as evidence for judicial proceedings. At the same police station the commission was told that a room with a locked door was "an unused storage room" to which the key had been lost. The commission members broke a panel of the door and peered through to find "all of the walls, including the door, were covered with yellow sponge, in order to give sound insulation . . . . Almost all of the children who had told the Commission that they had been tortured at this police station had described this room covered in yellow foam." There were "lost keys" and soundproofed interrogation rooms in other police stations and provinces as well.

There were no verified reports of "disappearance," but the authorities continued to ignore demands for investigation of the pattern of "disappearances" from the mid-1990s. The European Court of Human Rights continued to investigate outstanding cases. In June the court found the Turkish government responsible for the 1994 "disappearance" of Abdulvahap Timurtas after his detention by gendarmes in Silopi, Sirnak Province.

Tension increased in the prison system as Sincan F-Type Prison, the first of a new generation of high security facilities, reached completion. The new prisons consisted of one- and three-person cells rather than the large wards that were traditional in the Turkish prison system. Prisoners held under the Anti-Terror Law were alarmed that they were about to be moved into a regime of intense isolation under article 16 of that law. A number of prisoners at Kartal Special Type Prison in Istanbul are already held in small group isolation characterized by a limited and monotonous physical and social environment with no out-of-cell time, in clear violation of international prison standards.

In June, in the wake of protests by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, lawyers were told that clients held at Kartal Special Type Prison would be allowed access to the library and sports facilities in groups of five or ten, but this was not implemented. In July the CPT visited Turkey and examined Sincan F-Fype Prison, but as of October its findings had not been published.

In October, the Ministry of Justice published a draft law abolishing mandatory solitary or small-group isolation for prisoners held under the Anti-Terror Law.

In July a group of prisoners at Burdur Prison refused to attend court hearings in protest against the planned implementation of F-type prisons. Gendarmes who entered the prison to suppress the protest beat and injured male and female prisoners. Medical reports issued by Burdur State Hospital indicated that prisoners were suffering from burns and broken limbs and ribs, and that female prisoners had complained of beingraped with objects. The arm of one prisoner, Veli Sacilik, was torn off by an excavator used to break into the ward. The Ministry of Justice made a public statement that prisoners had resisted security forces who "took care to apply only such force as was necessary to break the resistance, using modern equipment rather than firearms, and to end the riot without causing any damage."

Although Turkey retained the death penalty and courts continued to hand down death sentences, the sixteenth successive year passed without judicial executions. In June the prime minister and the minister of justice expressed personal opposition to the death penalty and called for its abolition, regretting that there was not unanimity on this issue within the coalition government.

By retaining a geographic limitation to its ratification of the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Turkey refuses to recognize any asylum seekers as refugees unless they come from Europe and therefore continued to be a hazardous destination for asylum seekers, most of whom are Iranian and Iraqi. In May nine Bangladeshi, Afghan, and Pakistani asylum seekers were shot dead by Turkish security forces as they crossed the border at Dogubayazit, near Agri in eastern Turkey.

Although illegal armed organizations carried out fewer attacks on civilians, in three separate incidents in August, Bektaþ Kaya and Sadik Kaya, both village officials, and Hamdi Sahin, a villager, were abducted and killed in Tokat province. The Workers and Peasants' Army of Turkey (TIKKO) was believed to be responsible for the killings.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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