Human rights in Turkey has “deteriorated” in 2015 amid “breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, a sharp escalation of violence in the southeast and a crackdown on media and political opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged.
HRW has examined developments including “the takeover of independent broadcasters, prosecution and imprisonment of journalists and critics, frequent bans on public assemblies, further steps to bring the judiciary under government control, and the failure to make progress on combating violence against women” within the report.
The 2016 report evaluating at least 90 countries across the globe underlined the threat of “politics of fear”, in its World Report 2016 released on Jan. 27.
“Turkey's trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, stating these issues “spell dark times and take Turkey further away from the goal of being a rights-respecting country”.
In the global report's introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth referred to spread of terrorist attacks beyond Middle East as well as refugee flaws “facing repression and conflict” led by governments in a bid to “protect their security”.
“At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times” said Roth's comments.
Threats under "treatment of regugees"
The organization also assessed Turkey's treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, notably the 2.2 million Syrian refugees sheltering in the country.
In this perspective, the agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey which was designed to prevent irregular migration to the EU in exchange for €3 billion and other incentives raises concerns as “people could be denied access to effective protection, detained in Turkey or blocked from entering Turkey altogether”.
“Prior to securing the migration deal, the European Commission twice delayed publication of its annual report on Turkey's progress as a candidate country for EU accession” the report urged. “The migration deal is an attempt by the EU to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey through financial incentives” Sinclair-Webb said.
“Renewed Violence” in the southeastern Turkey
According to HRW, the breakdown in 2015 of the government-initiated peace process with Abdullah Öcalan, was accompanied by an increase in “violent attacks, armed clashes and human rights abuses in the second half of the year”.
“The latter included violations of the right to life, arrests of non-violent protesters and activists on terrorism charges and ill-treatment of detainees” urged HRW.
The statement reiterated hundreds of attacks on Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) offices in run-up to both elections, while two of its offices were bombed in the run-up to the June election.
A bomb attack on a Diyarbakır HDP election rally on June 5 has also killed four, while a former Islamic State (IS) fighter has been under investigation for the Diyarbakır bombing, the report underlined.
“The most serious escalation of violence followed the June general election” said HRW, reminding the suicide bombing in that killed 32 students and activists from Turkey who had traveled to the southeast town of Suruç to join efforts to rebuild Kobani.
Freedom of Expression
HRW also urged that media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey have been "restricted by the government" in 2015, “hand-in-hand with efforts to discredit the political opposition and prevent scrutiny of government policies in the run-up to the two general elections”.
The terrorism and espionage investigation of Cumhuriyet newspaper for posting a video and news report showing trucks laden with weapons allegedly en route to Syria was also addressed in the report. The newspaper's editor Can Dündar and journalist Erdem Gül were arrested and jailed pending trial.
Meanwhile, “police has raided the İpek Media group, including TV stations and newspapers, two days after the government had appointed trustees to run the parent company, Koza İpek Holding”.
The report underlined that some of the staff were fired while TV stations and newspapers were turned into “pro-government organs” by appointing news editors.
In September, the building of Hürriyet newspaper and its owner the Doğan Media Group came under direct attack by crowds hours “after Erdoğan had accused the newspaper of misrepresenting comments he made in a television interview” it added.
“Social media postings critical of the president and politicians by ordinary people also led to criminal defamation charges and convictions. A new trend in 2015 saw courts in several cases order pretrial detention of people for several months for allegedly insulting Erdoğan via social media or during demonstrations.”
Judicial Independence and Women's rights
HRW's global report on Turkey urged that “long-standing defects in Turkey's justice system” included threats against judicial independence.
This issue is a pattern of “ineffective investigation into abuses by security forces and other state actors, excessively long proceedings, and politically motivated prosecutions”, according to the report.
Regarding women's rights, HRW reminded the liability of Turkey with respect to its ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
“The murder and attempted rape of Ozgecan Aslan in Mersin in February sparked mass protests calling for government action to stop the killing of women, including by their partners” the report explained.