WORLD REPORT 1998 - Turkey

Human Rights Developments

In power just under a year, Turkey's first Islamist-led government, the Welfare/True Path Party (Refahyol) coalition of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan resigned on June 18 after an intense public and private campaign headed by the military and the General Staff. One editorial writer dubbed the act the country's "first post-modern coup" as the military was able to force the government from office without taking power directly or putting troops in the streets. The minority three-party coalition (ANASOL-D) of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz took office in July after the resignation of Refah. The new Prime Minister and many of his ministers have made positive statements about improving the human rights situation and instituting reform, though only time will tell if these will translate into structural, far-reaching improvements. The conflict in southeastern Turkey between security forces and the Workers' Party of Kurdistan (PKK) continued into its thirteen year, with both sides committing serious abuses, though at a level in line with a sharp reduction in fighting inside Turkey. Although a lively, if small, civil society was active and there was both progress and setbacks with regard to prosecuting police, lowering detention periods for security detainees, and releasing jailed editors, persistent human rights abuses continued. They included restrictions on free expression, torture, death in detention, and police abuse and maltreatment. Prisons continued to be a problem, with poor administration and excessive use of force during unrest. Militant left and right-wing groups continued to commit abuses, such as bombings and assassinations.

1997 witnessed a continual back-and-forth between signs of improvement and abuse. The former Erbakan government lowered detention periods for security detainees and ordered increased oversight of police, but reports of torture and maltreatment by police continued. The Yilmaz government quickly passed a law in August resulting in the release of at least ten editors jailed on free expression charges. Unfortunately, other laws continued to punish freedom of thought. In October, for example, Esber Yagmurdereli, a respected lawyer and human rights activist, was remanded into custody to start serving a twenty-two-year sentence on free expression charges. There appeared to be an increase in the prosecution of abusive police, especially in cases involving the January 1996 death of journalist Metin Goktepe in police custody and the death of ten inmates in the September 1996 riot in Diyarbakir prison, but in the case of the torture of teenagers in Manisa in December 1995, there was a serious setback when the court did not order police charged in the case to appear in court so their accusers could identify them. It took the direct intervention of Mr. Yilmaz, a commendable effort in itself, to arrest the relatively low-ranking police officers charged in the Goktepe case; later, four of the men were released on bail. In September, State Minister Salih Yildirim announced the need for Kurdish-language television broadcasts in southeastern Turkey. In Istanbul, however, the governor's office blocked the Kurdish Culture and Research Foundation (Kurt-Kav) from conducting Kurdish-language courses. Finally, the investigation into the Susurluk scandal, an auto accident in November 1996 that pointed toward "illegal gangs" in the security forces, proved disappointing, despite an immense public outcry and a parliamentary investigationthat issued a report which, though not perfect, called for serious reform. The parliamentary immunity of those believed to be the key figures in the scandal, among them former Interior Minister Mehmet Agar, was not lifted, and only eleven low-ranking security officials were brought to trial. They were released from custody in September, though three are still held in another case.

Mr. Erbakan's hapless Refahyol coalition, beset by internal conflict with his secular coalition partner and by scandal, had infuriated the military by its attempt to legalize certain aspects of Islam at odds with Turkey's constitution, such as the right of female civil servants to wear head scarves. Turkey's military establishment, which views itself as the ultimate guardian of the secular, Kemalist state, also grew wary of Refah's attempt to pack the bureaucracy with its supporters and of intemperate statements by some Refah leaders. The military declared "fundamentalism" Turkey's number one threat and sought closure of state-supported religious schools (Imam-Hatip), schools that had been opened by every government since 1950-including the military after the 1980 coup. At the end of February, the military presented Mr. Erbakan's government with an eighteen point program to rein in Islamist activity, and in May, the government took legal action to ban Refah (Welfare Party) for threatening the secular character of the state, though the case as presented in the indictment was largely based on free expression charges. The final blow came in a June 11 statement from General Staff headquarters threatening that "weapons would be used if necessary in the struggle against fundamentalism." The government resigned a week later. It was also reported that the military sought to reinstate article 163, which banned fundamentalist activity and had been abolished in 1991.

Although the military consistently tops the polls as the most respected institution in Turkey and was supported in its anti-Refah campaign by trade unions, some business groups, and most of the press establishment, its interventionist proclivity is sharply at odds with the role the military plays in most democratic countries. The military exerts its influence through the National Security Council (MGK), a half-civilian/half-military body chaired by the president and provided for under the 1982 constitution, a restrictive document written after the 1980 coup. Law No. 2945 gives the MGK a broad and poorly-defined sphere of responsibility that includes protecting the state "against any foreign or domestic threat to its interests...including political, social, cultural, and economic...." A report on democratization in Turkey issued in January 1997 by The Turkish Industrialist's and Businessmen's Association ( TUSIAD) stated that, "If Turkey wishes to move in the direction of modern democracy, the issues of domestic and foreign security and national defense must be differentiated, and the Turkish armed forces' sphere of interest must be restricted to national defense."

The conflict in southeastern Turkey with the Workers Party of Kurdistan, continued into its thirteenth year, albeit at a much reduced level of intensity. Small scale incidents were also reported in mountainous regions south of the Black Sea. As in the past, most abuses committed by government forces and the PKK continued to occur in the southeast. Abuses included torture, extrajudicial killings, and indiscriminate fire. Much of the fighting moved to remote mountain areas or to northern Iraq, from which the PKK launched raids into Turkey. In mid-May, Turkey launched a large-scale incursion into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK insurgents, and there was talk of setting up a buffer zone. Another cross-border operation commenced in September. Though not independently confirmed, in October the government reported that 28,000 individuals had been killed since the start of the conflict.

The Yilmaz government's coalition protocol stated that, "The reasons for the problems of the southeast are not ethnic, but geographical, social, and economic, stemming from the region's feudalstructure..." In July, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit led a delegation to Diyarbakir, the center of Turkey's ethnically-Kurdish regions, to announce job creation programs, increased education opportunities, and housing for the forcibly displaced.

A state of emergency remained in force in nine provinces of the region for most of 1997, though in October emergency rule was lifted in Batman, Bingol, and Bitlis provinces with promises to abolish emergency rule at the end of 1997. After the abolishment of emergency rule in Mardin province in early 1997, local human rights groups reported little change because a 1996 amendment to the provincial administration law gives extended and restrictive powers to provincial governors.

Parties that made demands for legal recognition of Turkey's Kurdish minority continued to face criminal prosecution. In May, the party chair, Murat Bozlak, and other administrators of the People's Democracy Party (HADEP), the top vote-getter in southeastern Turkey, were found guilty of aiding the PKK in a trial based on weak and questionable evidence; it appears that a case will be opened to ban the party. In June, the Democratic Mass Party (DKP) of Serafettin Elci, a former minister, was prosecuted under article 81 of the Political Party Law entitled, "Preventing the Creation of Minorities."

The most serious consequence of the fighting in the southeast has been the forced evacuation of villages and hamlets in the region. The majority were forcibly evacuated between 1993-1995; while large-scale evacuations have ceased, some smaller operations continued during 1997. In July, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit announced that 3,185 villages and hamlets-home to an estimated 370,000 individuals-had been evacuated during the conflict. The United States State Department cited 560,000 as a "credible estimate." Little state aid or compensation was given to the displaced, and few were able to return to their homes. According to Interior Ministry figures released in March 1997, approximately 20,000 individuals had returned to their homes in 108 villages and ninety hamlets over the past year. In addition, a food "embargo" that limited the amount of staple food villagers could purchase was in effect in Tunceli province, allegedly to cut off the PKK's ability to receive or steal supplies. While the government claimed that individuals left voluntarily under pressure from the PKK, it appeared that a conscious military strategy aimed at denying the PKK logistic support and recruiting opportunities forced the majority of evacuations. The PKK, however, continued to pressure villages to give logistic support and to burn pro-state villages run by village guards. According to a Turkish Union of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) study based on 689 households that had migrated to Diyarbakir since 1976 (369 between 1990-96), 38.46 percent reported that their villages had been burned, while 25.54 percent left because of "events in the region." Another 30.04 percent left because of an inability to make a living, while 12.48 percent had no land. Upon the request of CHP deputy Algan Hacaloglu, a former state minister for human rights, a parliamentary committee was formed to investigate the cause of displacement and to provide aid to the displaced. It began work in July.

The village guard system (Koruculuk) continued to raise human rights concerns. Approximately 50,000 ethnic Kurdish villagers functioned as a civil guard force in remote areas in the southeast. On the whole poorly-trained and disciplined, village guards continued to be implicated in a variety of crimes including smuggling, kidnaping, and abuse of authority. According to Interior Ministry figures, between 1985-1996, village guards were involved in 296 murders. In February, Unal Erkan, a DKP deputy and former governor of the emergency rule region, stated that village guards often operated outside the control of the gendarmerie. While some join willingly, either out of economic need or because their tribes are pro-state, many villages face pressure to enter the system. In January, there were reports of large-scale detentions by the gendarmerie in the Lice district ofDiyarbakir based on the refusal of villagers to become village guards.

For its part, the PKK continued to commit human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, kidnaping, extortion, and destruction of property. Attacks are often targeted against those whom the PKK charges with "cooperating with the state," such as civil servants, teachers, and village guards' families. In April, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan warned that he would not take responsibility for "the death of your children and families." In March, an official of the ERNK, the political wing of the PKK, threatened attacks against civilian targets, including tourists; in July, a female suicide bomber accidentally killed herself in a bathroom in the resort town of Bodrum as she prepared her attack. In 1996, the PKK carried out suicide bomb attacks that took the lives of both civilians and soldiers. In May, it was reported that PKK fighters murdered five workers at a water drilling site in the hamlet of Cardakli, Hani district of Diyarbakir. In July, PKK militants raided a village in the Eruh district of Siirt province and murdered a villager on the basis that he was an "informer." In August, PKK members attacked a postal vehicle in Van province, killing four individuals. In Ordu, fighters murdered a policeman in a minibus stopped at a PKK roadblock.

While lively expression and debate existed in a wide variety of newspapers and private television stations, a number of laws, including articles 312 (inciting ethnic hatred) and 159 (insulting the parliament, army, republic, judiciary) of the Turkish penal code, article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (separatist propaganda), the Law to Protect Ataturk (No. 5816), and article 16 of the Press Law, were employed to punish, fine, and imprison journalists and writers, and to confiscate and ban publications. Subjects that were sometimes punished included the Kurdish question, the role of the military, and political Islam, and newspapers most affected include leftist dailies like Emek (Labor) or Kurdish nationalist publications like (Ulkede) Gundem (Agenda in the Land).

In addition, a vaguely-worded law (no. 3984), which regulates Turkey's sixteen national and 360 local television stations-the vast majority private-was used to fine and temporarily close stations (usually for one day.) The government discussed amending the law to change closure penalties into fines, but as of this writing, no new law had been passed.

The case of three journalists arrested in June 1997 exemplifies the arbitrary and contradictory nature of repression of free expression. Two journalists from the now defunct Demokrasi newspaper and the Diyarbakir correspondent from ATV television station were arrested in June for interviewing two former PKK members alleged to have taken part in killings and illegal activities on behalf of the state. The three journalists were charged with forcing the pair to make the statements "in accord with the goals of the PKK." The men, however, made the same statements without incident to other newspapers, two television programs, including Mehmet Ali Birand's 32nd Day, and to a Turkish parliamentary commission investigating the 1993 death-squad-style death of journalist Ugur Mumcu. A similar case occurred with the Turkish-language edition of Leo Muller's book Gladio: Das Erbe des Kalten Krieges (Gladio: The Legacy of the Cold War), originally published in Germany. While Pencere publishing, a small Istanbul publishing house, released the first edition without incident, the second edition of the book published in February was confiscated and both the publisher and translator were tried under article 312 and the Anti-Terror Law. In September, they were given a suspended sentence on the article 312 charge and an a fine under the Anti-Terror Law. Both sentences are under appeal.

Torture in pre-trial detention and police abuse continued, though the Refahyol government reduced detention periods for those held for crimes under the jurisdiction of State Security Courts, and the present government of Mesut Yilmaz vowed to end police abuse. The outcome of both theseactions was unclear, however, and credible accounts of abuse appeared frequently in the press in 1997. In December 1996, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a "Public Statement on Turkey" that condemned "flagrant examples of torture encountered by CPT delegations." Electric shock, squeezing of testicles, suspension by the limbs, blindfolding, and stripping naked were often used as a method of interrogation, especially by the Anti-Terror police. It was also reported that police continued to flout regulations requiring the immediate registration of detainees to avoid compliance with the March 1997 law reducing maximum detention periods for security detainees, which dropped from fifteen to seven days, and from thirty to ten days in the state of emergency region.

Police discipline and control was often lacking during crowd control duties, especially those involving leftists and Kurds. In February, an individual in Antalya died in police detention of a heart attack after being beaten with walkie-talkies. In July, four cameramen covering an Islamist demonstration in Istanbul were beaten so badly by the police that they needed hospitalization; in September, some participants in the "Musa Anter Peace Train" were beaten by police and had their banners burned. A report prepared by a private U.S. consulting firm noted the lack of adequate oversight of police by supervisory officers, especially during crowd control, as well as the inadequacy of the government response to allegations of torture.

Overcrowding, under-funding, and bad conditions continued to plague Turkey's prison system; 562 prisons held 56,000 prisoners, including 9,241 security detainees. The Justice and Interior Ministries' split jurisdiction over prisons, lax oversight, and poorly trained and easily bribed warders (gardiyan) further exacerbated an already explosive situation. Convicts were housed in large open wards, which allowed prisoners, especially in political cases, to enforce discipline and punishment-including executions-among themselves. There were credible reports of the gendarmerie beating prisoners while transporting them to court or to the hospital. In suppressing prison unrest, the gendarmerie often used excessive and deadly force. Six inmates charged with criminal offenses died in July during a riot in Istanbul's Metris prison. Turkish television broadcast footage of gendarmerie brutally beating inmates with rifle butts and batons while attempting to restore order. While it is still unclear whether security forces or prisoners were responsible for the six deaths, Yucel Sayman, the chair of the Istanbul bar who investigated the incident, put ultimate blame on "the order of vested interests in the prisons."

Far-left armed groups, such as Revolutionary Left (Dev Sol/DHKP-C) and Turkish Workers' and Peasants' Liberation Army (TIKKO), continued to commit abusive, violent acts. In August, it was reported that Dev-Sol launched an unsuccessful attack in an attempt to kill eight Islamists charged in the 1993 fire that killed thirty-seven intellectuals in Sivas. In May, TIKKO members reportedly killed four civilians at a flour mill in Tokat. In September, a radical Islamist group, Vasat, a splinter of The Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C), killed one and wounded twenty-four others in a grenade attack during the Gaziantep trade fair.

Civil society played an increasingly important role, a bright spot in the year. A lively if sometimes sensationalist press aggressively pursued the Susurluk story, and the Press Council lobbied for the August law freeing journalists. Peaceful demonstrations dubbed "A minute of darkness for light" spread over Turkey as households turned off the lights to protest Susurluk and corruption. The Turkish Industrialist's and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) continued its call for greater democratization with the release of a 204-page report, Perspectives on Democratisation in Turkey. Individuals also spoke out. A state security court prosecutor during a television talk show questioned the independence of the judiciary. He was later charged with insulting the judiciary. Esber Yagmurdereli ran a campaign to gather 1,000,000 signatures to draw attention to the conflict in the southeast and handed them to the Speaker of the Parliament in mid-1997. Yagmurdereli, recently remanded into custody on free expression charges, commented that, "People are much more aware of the restrictions of their freedom than in the past...Policies which limit the practice of politics in this country cannot survive much longer."

The Right To Monitor

Turkey's three main human rights groups, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), the Human Rights Association (HRA), and the Islamist-based Mazlum-Der, continued their vocal and active monitoring. The government's behavior was contradictory. It appeared to recognize the legitimacy of the groups' activities, evidenced by it allowing all three to participate in an August meeting of the government's newly-created "Human Rights High Council." On the other hand, there were arrests and criminal prosecutions of human rights activists, and human rights publications were banned. In August, a criminal trial began to close the HRA on grounds of "disseminating separatist propaganda" and "inciting the people to enmity through racial and regional discrimination" during Human Rights Week in December 1996. Between May and August, the Diyarbakir, Izmir, Malatya, Konya, Urfa, Mardin, and Balikesir branches of the HRA were ordered closed by state authorities; as of this writing, only three have been allowed to reopen. In May, Dr. Tufan Kose was found guilty of "negligence in denouncing a crime" and Mustafa Cinkilic, a lawyer, was acquitted of "disobeying the orders of authorities." The case against both men, representatives of the HRFT Adana branch, stems from their refusal to provide authorities with the names and records of 167 victims of torture who sought treatment in Adana. As revealed in foreign ministry documents leaked in 1996, the trial was opened because the HRFT reports were widely used and quoted by news agencies and foreign embassies and governments.

Foreign human rights groups were generally able to travel to Turkey to conduct research and observe trials. Amnesty International's researcher for Turkey remained banned from entering the country, though Amnesty was able to send other researchers and trial observers. In September, the Yilmaz government lifted the entrance ban against twenty-one German citizens, including an Amnesty consultant deported in June 1995. No journalists, foreign or domestic, were allowed free access to northern Iraq during Turkey's May incursion; select foreign correspondents were taken under military supervision in a one-time press pool. In general, access for journalists and human rights observers to rural areas of southeastern Turkey under emergency rule is limited, and it has proven difficult to enter Tunceli province, scene of heavy fighting between security forces and the PKK. Steven Kinzer, the New York Time's Istanbul bureau chief, was detained overnight and questioned near Batman province in February 1997.

The Role of the

International Community


Turkey continued to have tense relations with the European Union over a number of issues, including human rights and possible E.U. membership for Turkey. On December 13, 1995, the European Parliament ratified a customs union agreement intended to reduced trade barriers and tariffs between Turkey and the E.U. The parliament, however, continued to block payment of some U.S.$470 million in adjustment funds because of human rights concerns. Greece-an E.U. member- had also opposed releasing the funds to Turkey.

The E.U. sent mixed signals to Ankara concerning future E.U. membership. While Brussels continued to raise concerns over democratization, respect for human rights, and economic development, in 1997 Turkey's Muslim identity also became an issue. In February, Dutch Foreign Minister and E.U. term president Hans Van Mierlo stated that, "There is a problem of a large Muslim state. Do we want that in Europe? It is an unspoken question." Eventually, the E.U. lowered its cultural hurdle and stated that Turkey would be judged under the same criteria as other applicants.

The European Commission of Human Rights, which acts as a gatekeeper for the European Court of Human Rights, continued to review applications-primarily allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, forced village evacuations, disappearances while in custody, and unlawful death-brought by Turkish citizens under the right of individual petition. Between 1990-96, the commission registered 1,389 applications; it declared 133 admissible and 274 inadmissible. In September 1997, the Court ruled that in 1993 the Turkish gendarmerie had raped and tortured an ethnic Kurdish woman in custody.

United States

The U.S. government maintained its policy of keeping human rights issues on the agenda while stressing the overall importance of Turkey as a strategic U.S ally. During his July confirmation hearings as Secretary for European and Canadian Affairs, Marc Grossman, the previous U.S. ambassador to Turkey, stated that U.S. policy toward Turkey contained three dimensions: promoting democracy, getting "the right kind of a security relation," and expanding trade. The Clinton administration at times did openly criticize the Turkish government: in February, Secretary of State Madeline Albright stated that, "there are things going on there which we do not approve of, certainly in the area of human rights." In June she spoke against any direct intervention by the military. The embassy was active in monitoring human rights, including trials, and the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 was candid and well-informed.

The level of U.S. military loans (FMF) and economic support funds (ESF) remained steady. In 1997, U.S. $22 million in ESF and $175 million in FMF were appropriated for Turkey. The Turkish government had earlier rejected the ESF funds because of a dispute over two amendments passed by Congress. An additional $1.5 million was appropriated under the International Military Education and Training program; much of that was used to conduct human rights training among Turkish forces.

The issue of weapons transfers again proved to be a controversial topic, especially in light of a Congressionally-mandated report prepared by the Departments of State and Defense on the use of U.S. weapons in the conflict with the PKK. Released in July, it charged that the Turkish government had conducted a conscious policy of forced village evacuations.

Relevant Human Rights Watch report:

Turkey: Torture and Mistreatment in Pre-Trial Detention by Anti-Terror Police, 3/97

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