Turkey slams US over critical human rights report
Turkey has lashed out at the United States for criticizing measures taken in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt in its annual human rights report, describing these criticisms as “unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality.”
“The parts of the latest report regarding Turkey, released on March 3, 2017, comprise unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality. In this period, when we are faced with unprecedented threats of terrorism against the survival of our nation and state, misrepresentation of our legitimate struggle against terrorist organizations, in particular FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terror Organization], the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front] and DAESH [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], in a way that does not reflect realities, has caused deep disappointment,” read the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in response to a 75-page U.S. Department of State report.
“Inconsistent access to due process,” “government interference with freedom of expression,” and “inadequate protection of civilians,” especially in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, were among the significant human rights problems observed in 2016.
“It is denotative that the report makes no reference to the role of FETÖ elements in the July 15 coup attempt, or the fact that the FETÖ leadership lives in the U.S. Also, the description of our fight against the PKK terrorist organization as an ‘internal conflict’ is totally unacceptable,” the ministry stated.
“It is clear that this report, which ignores information and opinions provided by our authorities within the understanding of constructive cooperation, fails to claim any basis in terms of objectivity,” it added.
Significant human rights problems
The U.S. State Department report listed important shortcomings in human rights in Turkey as follows:
Inconsistent access to due process: Following the July 15 coup attempt, the government on July 20 declared a three-month state of emergency, which was renewed in October, that allowed suspension of some due process protections for those accused of ties to terrorist groups. The government ascribed responsibility for the attempt to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which it defined as a terrorist organization.
Little clarity on charges: Courts imprisoned tens of thousands of persons accused of supporting the coup or terrorist groups, in many cases with little clarity on the charges and evidence against them. Government decrees issued under the state of emergency restricted suspects’ access to legal assistance, allowed suspects to be held without charge for up to a month, and in some cases froze the assets of suspended or fired civil servants or their family members. Human rights groups documented some cases in which family members were held or subjected to restrictions on their freedom of movement in lieu of suspects who remained at large. The government suspended and dismissed tens of thousands of civil servants, who generally had little access to legal recourse or appeal, and closed thousands of businesses, schools, and associations.
Media freedom under pressure
Government interference with freedom of expression: The government restricted freedom of expression, media, and the Internet, intensifying pressure on the media following the failed coup attempt. Authorities arrested at least 140 journalists, most accused of affiliation with the Gülen movement or connections with the PKK. The government also exerted pressure on media, closing media outlets and publishing associations; conducting raids on media companies; confiscating publications with allegedly objectionable material; instigating criminal investigations of journalists and editors for alleged support of terrorist groups; banning books; instigating gag orders on terrorism-related stories; and blocking internet sites. Self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals. The closure of nearly all Kurdish-language media outlets reduced vulnerable populations’ access to information and alternative viewpoints. The government impeded access by international media and observers to conflict areas, limiting independent reporting about conditions.
Inadequate protection of civilians: In fighting the terrorist PKK, government security forces failed to take sufficient measures to protect civilians. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Southeast were forced to flee their homes and most remained internally displaced at year’s end. Upwards of 200 civilians were killed in the fighting. Human rights groups reported that security forces killed and injured persons who attempted to cross illegally from Syria into Turkey and documented reports of torture and abuse of prisoners following the coup attempt.