As Turkey will undergo its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said a review of the situation in Turkey before the UN offers a chance to acknowledge and address the country’s human rights crisis and the dramatic erosion of its rule of law framework.
Over the past four years, Turkish authorities have detained and prosecuted perceived government opponents, journalists, activists and human rights defenders on broad and vague terrorism and other charges for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and other non-violent activities. The rights to assembly and association have been severely curtailed across the country, and the government has exerted heavy political control over the courts, whose judges have all too easily handed down convictions and harsh sentences in defiance of human rights norms, HRW said in a statement on Monday.
“The huge number of journalists, politicians, and perceived government critics in prison and on trial flies in the face of the Turkish government’s public statements about the state of human rights in the country,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW. “Countries at the UN review should urgently press Turkey to address the sharp decline in respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and to carry out real reform.”
In July 2016 Turkey experienced a violent coup attempt in which 250 people died. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government have justified many of the repressive measures taken since then as a legitimate response to the coup. While the government should bring those responsible for the failed coup to justice, the broad crackdown on critics and opponents perverts rather than serves that aim, HRW said.
In the post-coup period, President Erdoğan has assumed greater powers with the introduction of a presidential system that removes checks and balances and brings the judiciary under executive control.
HRW said UN member states participating in Turkey’s UPR review should urge President Erdoğan’s administration to end the arbitrary and prolonged detention of activists, politicians, human rights defenders, journalists and writers and prosecutions based on their non-violent activities instead of credible evidence of criminal activities; ensure an impartial judiciary; remove political pressure on judges and prosecutors and put laws in place that protect human rights; end the use of blanket bans to impose arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly; carry out the European Court of Human Rights’ rulings that jailed businessman Osman Kavala and jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş be immediately released from their prolonged and arbitrary detention; and review all articles of the Turkish Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and other laws that are used to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and the right to access to information, with a view to repealing or amending them to comply with international human rights standards.
“Turkey’s disregard of human rights is a disservice to its citizens, who deserve to live with dignity and freedom,” Williamson said.