(Istanbul) – Turkey's international credibility as a rising regional power will be compromised as long as it imprisons journalists, Kurdish political activists, and other government critics, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2012.
Since winning a third term with a strong showing of 50 percent of the vote in the June 12 general election, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) government has taken increasing steps to abridge rights at home, Human Rights Watch said. It has restricted freedom of expression, association, and assembly with laws that allow authorities to jail its critics for many months or years while they stand trial for alleged terrorism offenses on the basis of flimsy evidence.
“The Turkish government’s jailing of journalists and non-violent political activists undermines its democratic credentials in the region,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to end the clampdown and reform its terrorism laws.”
In its 676-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.
Human Rights Watch also highlighted the endemic violence against women in Turkey, police violence and use of force, moves to combat impunity for human rights violations, and international pressure on Turkey over its human rights record.
The government has pledged to rewrite the constitution to further human rights. But the intensified clampdown centering on officials of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi, BDP), but also including other critics of the government, threatens that process, Human Rights Watch said.
Thousands of people – including party activists, elected serving mayors, lawyers, journalists, several human rights defenders, and an academic – are on trial. Many of them are in prolonged pre-trial detention. They are accused of links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK) and the Kurdistan Communities Union (Koma Ciwakên Kurdistan, KCK), which the authorities claim is the PKK’s urban wing.
An increasing number of journalists and editors were arrested during 2011. On December 24, 36 journalists with the pro-Kurdish press were imprisoned on terrorism charges in the context of the broader clampdown on Kurdish political activity. In March, several other journalists including Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were imprisoned on terrorism charges for alleged links with coup plots against the government. The evidence presented against Şık and Şener was writings that do not incite violence.
The conflict with the PKK in Turkey escalated during 2011, with a rising number of civilian casualties in the second half of the year. PKK-related attacks killed and injured civilians in several cities. On December 28, Turkish air force jets bombed and killed 34 Kurdish villagers, 19 of them children, in Şırnak province near the Iraq border. An investigation into the lethal airstrike is under way.
Human Rights Watch called for the full and impartial investigation into all civilian deaths and said that those responsible for unlawful killings should be brought to justice.
“Turkey seeks to play a role in advocating democratic reforms in the region, but it needs to accompany its regional outreach with democratic reform at home,” Sinclair-Webb said.