• Autocracy behind a democratic facade: the political regime in Turkey

    Guest article by Ertuğ Tombuş,
Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


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  • Can Democracy Stand Up to the Cult of the Strongman Leader?

    By Mandeep Tiwana and Andrew Firmin

    Donald Trump’s presidency, recent protests in Russia and South Africa and the referendum to consolidate presidential power in Turkey have reignited debate about an emerging form of macho conservative politics called ‘Putinism’. This new form of politics is shaping contemporary notions of democracy while undermining the international rules-based system and harming civil society.

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier




  • CIVICUS at UN Human Rights Council: Human rights challenges in the context of countering terrorism

    37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Oral Statement – Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

    1 March 2018

    CIVICUS, on behalf of the Civic Space Initiative, welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights challenge of states of emergency in the context of countering terrorism.

    This Council has reaffirmed that the most effective means of countering terrorism is through the respect for human rights, including by addressing conditions conducive to terrorism such as a lack of respect for the rule of law, political exclusion, suppression of dissent.

    Worryingly, from the Maldives, to France, to Turkey, to Ethiopia, governments across the world are invoking states of emergency, with the effect, and in some cases the intent, of criminalising dissent and persecuting human rights defenders, protesters and civil society organisations. Rather than pursue legitimate national security objectives, these laws are applied to insulate governments from legitimate criticism. Such measures are contrary to international human rights law and are counter-productive to peace and security.

    We urge states to heed the Human Rights Committee’s guidance that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be derogated, and we consider the same to be true for other rights essential to civil society.

    All national counter-terrorism laws must be brought into compliance with international human rights law, with the full and effective participation of civil society. We call on States that are currently under States of Emergency to ensure their independent review by the judiciary, and to end them where they are no longer justified by the exigencies of the situation.

    We ask the Special Rapporteur how the Human Rights Council can better support the UN Security Council in addressing the shrinking of civic space, to provide accountability for abuses of counter-terrorism measures against persons exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.


  • Dire situation for journalists and civil society in Turkey

    CIVICUS speaks to Huseyin Hurmali, President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation about the difficult environment for journalists in Turkey. Worldwide, Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists. He also speaks about the future of democracy in Turkey after the President’s move to consolidate power following a tightly-contested referendum.

    1. How would you describe the situation in Turkey for journalists and writers?
    Depressing: More than half the journalists who are in prison around the world are in Turkey. Turkey currently has the highest number of journalists in jail worldwide. Concrete information, confirmed by the international press and human rights organisations, indicates that Turkey is not a free country in terms of freedom of the press.

    According to a report released by the Journalists Association of Turkey, 839 journalists appeared in court simply for reporting news in 2016. These numbers are a clear indication that the problematic situation of freedom of the press in Turkey is far worse than many people think. It should be noted that this number may rise at any moment due to ongoing police raids and detentions. After the 15 July 2016 coup, 85% of the journalists and media workers were taken into custody and arrested. The journalists are charged with various charges among them “espionage”, “membership of a terrorist organisation”, “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “attempting to overthrow the current government”. As is mentioned in the report of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, the practices of silencing journalists through the abuse of the criminal justice system and expanding the scope of the definition of terrorism to use it against defendants are among the human rights violations frequently cited in human rights reports as well as in documents from the European Union, the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

    In addition to the jailed journalists and writers, there is a significant number of those for whom detention warrants were issued or were forced to flee the country due to the fear of unfair trial. These journalists and writers have to live in exile enduring financial hardships, intimidation of their families back in Turkey, denial of consular services at Turkish embassies and consulates, uncertain legal status in their respective countries, and having to hide their identities in their countries of asylum due to continuous death threats on social media from supporters of President Recep Erdogan.

    There are a few remaining independent and critical media organisations in Turkey, and their staff are working under constant threat of arrest, violence, hate speech, discrimination, profiling, censorship and even death. The court is now the most frequent place of visitation for critical journalists who face criminal cases against them, if they have not been jailed yet. The seizure and closure of 189 media organisations by the government indicates that not only the freedom of media is lost, but also a huge number of employees in this sector including the editorial, administrative and technical staff who have to face unemployment. More than 30% of journalists alone in the media sector have lost their jobs and were denied the right of carrying out their profession in any other institution, due to being blacklisted by the government. Furthermore, some of the journalists and writers who are in jail or in exile have lost all their assets by seizure orders from non-independent courts. Thereby, the victimisation of journalists and writers in Turkey reaches out to their close and extended families, inside and outside of the country.

    2. Please elaborate on some of the persecution tactics being used by the Turkish state against those who don’t agree with what’s going in the country at present.
    President Erdogan and the Turkish government are waging a war against dissent under the disguise of a war on terror, using the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 as a tool. The Turkish state’s persecution of dissenters was already taking place at a gradual speed since the mass protests in June 2013. The violent crushing down of the peaceful protests became a routine after that, until a point where people are afraid to exercise their right of peaceful gathering and mass protests. The government’s use of the police force to suppress dissent became more explicit when a corruption probe was revealed in December 2013, which included the close circle of Erdogan as prime suspects. Erdogan turned this case into a test of loyalty to himself within the security and the judiciary branch, jailing, discharging, or displacing the police officers and the judiciary members who were involved in the corruption probe against his government members (and himself). He became increasingly interventionist on the judiciary system by declaring his opponents as terrorists and criminals without any evidence.

    The redesigning of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors in 2014 gave way to the total instrumentalisation of legal system for the intimidation and persecution of dissenters. They reinterpreted the trusteeship concept in property law which was meant to prevent a private enterprise from bankruptcy, and appointed trustees as a way of seizing the private media, business, and educational institutions that were owned by the targeted individuals or groups. The ending of the peace process with the Kurdish movement in June 2015 was followed by a collective punishment of the Kurds by a military attack that tore down the Kurdish-majority cities in the southeast of Turkey. Legal actions were taken against peaceful supporters of the Kurdish case in order to silence opposition, as seen in the case of more than 1,000 academics who signed a petition for peace, and had to suffer administrative and legal investigation for criticising the state. People who belonged to the Gulen-inspired Hizmet movement, which became Erdogan’s number one target after the corruption probe in 2013, began to be detained and arrested for being a member of an “armed terror organisation” which was a term that was coined for the movement, in addition to “the parallel state structure” without any trial or a court decision. Critics from all sections were subjected to arbitrary legal harassment, by facing charges such as “insulting the President” “defaming state institutions” or “aiding a terror organisation” when they stood against the wrongful acts of the state; therefore people were forced to exert self-censorship in their social media posts and public conversations. Legal actions were taken against absurdly small incidents, such as liking an anti-Erdogan cartoon on Facebook, as a way of demonstrating the power of authority and the extent of its reach.

    The State of Emergency declared in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016 gave total impunity to the state’s ongoing persecution tactics as well as enabling it to launch a total crackdown against civil society and civil servants. The coup attempt gave the government the pretext to declare the Hizmet movement as an “armed terror organization” by blaming Gulen and his followers for the putsch, and to round up anyone who is even remotely connected to the network as a “coup supporter” and “member of an armed terror organisation.” It is a serious offense in Turkish criminal law, and entails harsh imprisonment conditions. The state of emergency decrees are immune to parliamentary or judicial control, allowing the dismissal of over 138,000 civil servants without any right to appeal, the closure of 149 media outlets, 2 099 schools, dormitories and universities. Under the state of emergency over 50 000 have been arrested (including 13 MPs from pro-Kurdish HDP) and 102 000 detained. Again, the Kurdish opposition and the Hizmet movement became the main target of the executive decrees, while the state is careful to include all sorts of dissidents to create fear among loyalists and opponents alike. The state also uses its embassies and consulates around the world to harass opponents by denying them of regular services, canceling their passports, and threatening to revoke their citizenship status if they are charged with a crime in Turkey and reject to return to the country after three months of notice.

    Turkey’s persecution of dissidents through illegal means has also reached beyond its national borders. Tactics employed include threats, denial of consular services, profiling and abductions. The recent abductions of Turkish nationals from Malaysia in total violation of international law is a case in point. Since October 2016, five Turkish nationals have been illegally detained by Malaysian operatives and handed over to Turkish authorities. These individuals are currently jailed in Turkey, raising serious fear of torture and inhuman treatment. The systematic nature of their abduction leaves little doubt about cooperation between the Turkish and Malaysian governments. There is growing concern that such a pattern could be repeated in other parts of the world where corrupt regimes or clandestine structures would be willing to cooperate with Turkey in order to kidnap Hizmet Movement sympathisers.

    3. Please elaborate on how your organisation was deprived of its status at the UN following pressure from the Turkish government.
    As an international civil society organization dedicated to a culture of peace, human rights and sustainable development, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) promotes diversity and inclusion by creating forums for intellectual and social engagement, generates and shares knowledge with stakeholders, builds partnerships worldwide and develops policy recommendations for positive social change.

    JWF received ECOSOC general consultative status in 2012, becoming the first and only NGO from Turkey to hold this status. Having this important status made the United Nations’ Global Agenda 2030 a priority area for JWF, particularly in terms of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Following the numerous violations of the freedom of speech in Turkey and as a result of the groundless claim of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN – namely, that JWF no longer exists, despite the fact that JWF is an NGO registered in New York State – JWF‘s general consultative status with ECOSOC was revoked on 19 April 2017 during the UN ECOSOC meeting. The Turkish government´s dictation for the withdrawal of JWF’s consultative status with ECOSOC was based on the fact that JWF’s operations were ended in Turkey by a post-coup emergency decree on 22 July 2016, which was issued due to its alleged associations with a fictitious terror organisation. We must point out that JWF is a 501(c) non-governmental organisation registered in New York State and has had its headquarters in New York since 2014.

    The Turkish government exploited procedural flaws in the rules and misused its membership status at the relevant UN bodies to extend its massive crackdown on civil society in Turkey to the United Nations platform. The ensuing decision to revoke JWF’s consultative status clearly contradicts the UN’s promotion of active civil society participation in the 2030 Agenda. Apart from Turkey’s increasing tendency towards dictatorship, there is also a growing concern about the intimidation of and reprisals against individuals and organisations that cooperate with the UN system. The withdrawal of JWF’s status clearly violates Article 56 of Resolution 1996/31, which indicates that the NGO concerned “shall be given written reasons for that decision and shall have an opportunity to present its response for appropriate consideration by the Committee”. JWF was neither informed in writing about this arbitrary action, nor was it given a platform to defend its twenty-three years of dedication to peace and the protection of human rights. JWF’s dedication to peace, human rights and sustainable development has been proven by the many activities and projects that have been implemented ever since JWF received general consultative status with ECOSOC in July 2012. JWF’s quadrennial report submitted to the Committee on NGOs in June 2016 is more than enough to indicate that this decision is not fair, given JWF’s activities and performance. The decision is clearly politically driven and secured by the privileged position of member states against NGOs in the ECOSOC system.

    4. Given the total clampdown on freedom of expression in the country how is democratic dissent being expressed? Are any creative methods being used?
    The “No” campaign during the 2017 Turkish constitutional referendum can be seen as a very creative expression of democratic dissent. Especially, young people’s creative political activism against the referendum shows that free expression will be hard to stamp out in the country.

    Without a doubt, speaking out against Erdogan comes with risks: “No” campaigners have faced alleged government-backed coercion and suppression. In March 2017, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) unveiled a 78-point report regarding irregularities and suppression of 'No' campaigners.

    But still, protesters have plastered photos of jailed artists and politicians who oppose the measure at select transport hubs. Videos of police questioning women who spoke out against the referendum on a ferry have gone viral in social media. Officials have banned a Kurdish song encouraging a “no” vote. (The subtitle to this song reads, "Playing this song in Turkey will land you in jail.") Young women in colorful masks shouting “No!” and university students beating drums and singing songs about freedom were among the thousands who marched on Istiklal Street, a popular thoroughfare in Istanbul, to campaign against boosting President Erdogan’s powers in a constitutional referendum. Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent is nothing new, but the creativity of the young people especially is still giving hope.

    5. What can international civil society do to support freedom of expression in Turkey?
    As the civil society and free and independent media in Turkey have been greatly impaired by the ongoing purge, international delegations of civil society and media organisations visiting Turkey must show solidarity with all victims of state oppression and be their voice indiscriminately. The wide range of civil servants, professionals, in addition many journalists and intellectuals who had to flee Turkey after the coup must be supported in their struggle to find safety and legal protection. The exiled journalists who launched initiatives to report on human rights abuses in Turkey need the help of international civil society in carrying out this high-risk, and mostly high-cost task. The remaining voices of dissent, which have most recently surfaced itself with the 49% (and possibly more) of the referendum voters in Turkey can only be kept alive as long as they feel the support of the international civil society through social media campaigns, as the social media is the major platform where alternative voices can be heard. Where Turkish citizens are silenced with fear, the international community must speak for them.

    6. How do you see the future of democracy in Turkey.
    The constitutional referendum last month unfortunately nailed the coffin of democracy and separation of powers in Turkey, allowing President Erdogan to combine the executive, legislative and judiciary powers. While this has already been the de facto system in Turkey for the last couple of years as Erdogan captured more and more elements of the state, the proposed Constitution will make it permanent as the de jure system. Yet there is still hope, as we have seen that even in an unfair and possibly rigged election, half of the voters stood against this proposal, and denied Erdogan a decisive victory. First and foremost of all, the State of Emergency rule must end as soon as possible, and the Turkish government has to stop the repression of its people and establish the fundamental rights of individuals.

    • Turkey is rated as “repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • Donors must improve on Istanbul summit pledge to world's poorest

    Budget squeeze no excuse to let targets slip

    BRUSSELS, 6th May, 2011: The first UN summit for the world's poorest countries in a decade must ensure that developed nations make good on commitments to help the most destitute, a global coalition of over 1000 civil society organizations said today.

    "Richer nations cannot use the economic crisis as an excuse not to follow through on their engagements," said Tony Tujan, co-chair of BetterAid.

    "This week's conference must ensure the immediate flow of 0.15 percent - 0.20 percent of the total gross national income of developed countries to the less developed countries, in line with previous commitments."

    The four-day United Nations conference on the 48 Less Developed Countries opens in Istanbul on 9 May. The so-called LDC-4 summit will adopt an "action program" for the coming decade that is likely to include a target of cutting the number of people suffering from poverty and hunger by half.

    BetterAid insists the Istanbul summit must go beyond good intentions to produce concrete results that go beyond the limited achievements of the last LDC conference in 2001.


  • LEBANON: ‘The world seems to be starting to forget Syrian refugees’

    Serene Dardari resizedCIVICUS speaks about the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon withSerene Dardari, Middle East Regional Communications Manager, and Mahmoud Abdullah, Lebanon Bekaa Area Manager of American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera).

    Founded in 1968, Anera is a US-registered civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to helping refugees and others hurt by conflicts in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza). Working with partners on the ground, it mobilises resources for immediate emergency relief and for sustainable, long-term health, education and economic development.

    What is the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon?

    The human rights situation of Syrian refugees is getting worse by the minute. Freedom to work is almost non-existent. Right from the start Syrians were officially not allowed to work in most sectors, so they typically rely on informal jobs in services, agriculture or construction, where they get no insurance or benefits and are exposed to all kinds of labour abuses.

    While the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon has always been difficult, COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown hit them very hard economically. As well as affecting host communities, the pandemic impacted on Syrian refugees with extra severity. Because Lebanese labour laws relegate refugees to the informal economy, they are dependent on gig work and daily jobs, usually in the service sectors. So they were particularly affected by the shutdown of the entertainment and food industries. 

    Because of school closures due to COVID-19 as well as ongoing teachers’ strikes to demand unpaid salaries, Syrian refugees have no place to study. Their freedom of movement has also been affected: everywhere in Lebanon there are notices warning that Syrians are only allowed to move around at certain hours. It’s starting to feel like full-blown segregation.

    It should be noted that Lebanon is already extremely segregated politically and religiously and has an extremely toxic and traumatic relationship with Syria. The presence of a large, mostly Sunni Muslim, Syrian community only adds to the political tension, to the point that violent clashes could erupt any time.

    With Lebanon’s ongoingeconomic crisis, the situation is hard for everyone, both locals and refugees. But on top of struggling economically, refugees are also facing growing xenophobia. Because Lebanese communities are struggling to put food on their tables, the narrative of refugees being a burden on society is becoming increasingly popular. When the Lebanese currency and politics were more stable, someone on an average salary could feed a whole middle-class family, but now they can barely get some petrol for their car. The idea that Syrian refugees are taking everything from Lebanese people is widespread, and reactions are becoming increasingly hostile and violent. When people see international funding going towards Syrian refugees, they get enraged.

    Many people think refugees are taking away potential aid that should go to Lebanese people. So on top of the livelihood challenges, refugees also face stigma, negativity and hostility, all of which affects their psyches. This isn’t happening just in Lebanon.Turkey is another example of this. The scenario is the same throughout the region: Syrian refugees are being blamed for everything.

    International factors such as fluctuations of the US dollar, political turmoil everywhere and the war in Ukraine are also affecting funding for Syrian refugees. So when it is most needed, funding is going to decrease. We have recently received a message that part of the assistance for Syrian refugees will be cancelled.

    Which are the most vulnerable groups of refugees, and why?

    Syrian women are for sure the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees, for several reasons. Their access to sexual and reproductive health centres, and to education, is truly low. There’s a general lack of knowledge and awareness of these issues and early marriage is frequent. In refugee camps such as those in Bekaa, Syrian women and girls are often exposed to gender-based and sexual violence. Those living in tent settlements know their chances of reporting sexual harassment and being heard are very, very low. Being a Syrian female refugee in Lebanon means dealing with toxicity and violence at all levels. 

    Children and young people are next in terms of their vulnerability. We are talking about early marriage, child labour and no prospects of accessing education or future employment opportunities. They have no access to proper medical attention either. If they get into an accident, they will wait in line for hours to be seen by a doctor. The most dangerous thing, however, is their lack of prospects. 

    What is Lebanon’s status regarding international refugee law?

    Lebanon hasn’t even signed the1951 Refugee Convention and is violating refugees’ rights by pushing them to ‘willingly’ go back to Syria. Lebanon should be bound by international law to protect these refugees, not to return them to unsafe territory.

    Unlike Turkey, the tents and places where Syrian refugees mostly live in Lebanon are privately owned. These private owners are Lebanese people profiting from refugees, who they make pay rent. They must pay electricity to have one bulb they can switch on and off inside the tents. They must be the only refugees on the planet who have to pay rent for the space they occupy!

    These rights violations are enabled by the fact that Lebanon has not signed the Refugee Convention. Syrian refugees are not officially considered refugees, which deprives them of their basic rights as refugees. This grey area is very dangerous.

    Refugees themselves aren’t aware of the laws that could protect them. They come from a country where they were never encouraged to inform themselves about and claim their basic human rights – which was one of the reasons they left. Upon arrival in Lebanon, they aren’t informed about their basic rights, so they are mostly unaware of them. And even if they knew what their rights are under international law, they have no guarantee these rights are going to be protected in Lebanon because nothing binds the Lebanese state to that law. 

    How does Anera promote the human rights of refugees?

    Anera is a humanitarian and development organisation. We are not a rights-based organisation, but we contribute to the protection of the basic human rights of refugees. Our role is to fill in the gaps left by the government to help refugees access education, work and healthcare, among other rights. 

    We work across several sectors, from livelihoods to food security. We try to create synergies between them to address several needs at once. We work with refugee families in both the north and south of Lebanon through agriculture support. We provide them with tools and technical education to grow and sell their produce. As for food security, we have programme in partnership with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Lebanon that provides hundreds of families with regular food parcels and cash assistance so they can purchase what they need. 

    One of our biggest programmes distributes free medicine. Each year we help mobilise medical supply shipments worth millions of dollars from international partners around the world and distribute them to refugee centres.

    We work to prevent child marriage through a cash transfer programme, using cash assistance as an incentive for families to keep their girls in school. And throughout our operations, we make sure all our partners abide by all humanitarian guidelines and standards when it comes to child protection and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse. Towards that end, we offer training and constantly do monitoring work. While we don’t directly provide safe spaces for victims and survivors, we work closely with other CSOs and grassroots groups that do so.

    It is worth mentioning that we always take the community aspect into consideration so as to balance things. For instance, our food programme also distributes food to the Lebanese population. 

    What challenges do you face?

    Thepolitical situation in Lebanon is very challenging. The fact that the government often has a hostile attitude towards Syrian refugees and is trying to return them to unsafe territories is a big obstacle. Government corruption also has a negative impact on our work with refugee communities, as it affects us on an organisational and funding level. 

    We also face challenges coming from the refugee communities where we work. An example of conflict happened recently in the context of a project on child marriage that we implemented due to the increase in child marriages among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Because of the economic crisis, more families are encouraged to marry off their daughters at a younger age. Our project faced pushback by the refugees themselves. It seems that toxic coping mechanisms such as child marriage are easier for them in the short term.

    What support do organisations working with Syrian refugees need from the international community?

    Everyone in Lebanon is vulnerable right now: Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees and Lebanese people. The situation of Syrian refugees is stagnant right now, but everything else is worsening. 

    What’s needed is more advocacy and more funding for all communities to balance the help provided and avoid conflict. We need to calm things down and bring stability. We could also use some technical support at a government level when it comes to refugee management.

    The narrative around Syrian refugees needs to change so they are not viewed as a burden but as human beings in need of help.

    The question all Syrian refugees ask themselves is what’s next. If the situation in Syria doesn’t get better and Syrians are forced to leave Lebanon, they will try to get to Europe, or anywhere else offering some kind of opportunity. We need more global engagement to determine what will happen next. Collective work is vital.

    The world seems to be starting to forget these refugees. The topic trended on social media for a while at the beginning but then attention was captured by floods in Nigeria, war in Ukraine andrepression in Iran. No one is talking about Syrian refugees anymore.

    So much is going on in the planet. There are so many crises erupting all at once. But the fact that new crises are happening doesn’t mean the situation of Syrian refugees has improved and the issue disappeared.

    The international community must remember Syrian refugees and the Syrian crisis. Human rights defenders must advocate for the rights of Syrian refugees – because if they don’t, who will?

    Please help us change the narrative and remind people of Syrian refugees.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Anera through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@AneraOrg on Twitter.


  • Tanzania, Kenya, Angola Join Watch List of Countries of Concern

    Attacks by the authorities on protesters, critics, NGOs and the media in Angola, Kenya and Tanzania have led global civil alliance, CIVICUS, to add the nations to its Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    The updated Watch List, which is regularly reviewed in response to current events, was released today.


  • TURKEY: ‘All critical voices are repressed under the pretext of combating disinformation’

    FatihPolatIn the run-up to Turkey’s general election, CIVICUS speaks with Fatih Polat, editor-in-chief of Evrensel, about the state of press freedoms and the Turkish government’s attacks on critical media.

    Founded in 1995, Evrensel is an independent daily newspaper. In August 2022, the Turkish Press Advertisement Agency permanentlybanned all public announcements and advertisements with Evrensel despite the Turkish Constitutional Court’s decision that advertisement bans on Evrensel and other newspapers violated freedom of expression and press freedom.

    What are the conditions for the exercise of journalism in Turkey?

    In Turkey state representatives routinely refuse to answer journalists’ questions. In any developed western democracy, this would be a serious matter and would be considered an obstruction of journalistic work. But in Turkey, this is no longer seen as a problem. For a very long time, the government has routinely imposed a variety of obstacles both on the critical Turkish press and on our foreign colleagues covering Turkey for international press organisations.

    Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained power 21 years ago, independent media have been in trouble. The government pressures critical media both financially and politically. It seeks to financially asphyxiate them by blocking the flow of official announcements and advertisements and imposing fines for alleged infractions concerning news, commentaries or television programmes. Political pressures range from lawsuits filed against individual journalists and newspaper managers to the detention, arrest and use of torture against journalists.

    Critical television channels can also be subjected to temporary screen blackouts. Online media, which have developed significantly over the past 20 years, experience pressures ranging from court-ordered removal of content to lawsuits. Even cartoonists are subjected to punishment and arrest. Moreover, journalists are frequently exposed to police violence and detained while following the news on the streets.

    On top of this, if the government is uncomfortable with the publication of a newspaper, a state official calls the agency that distributes advertisements and makes veiled threats to stop the flow of private advertisements. In contrast, newspapers and TV channels supporting the government receive serious financial aid from the state.

    How has Evrensel been specifically targeted?

    Evrensel is a 28-year-old, well-established newspaper that stays afloat thanks to readers’ contributions and advertisements placed by municipalities run by the opposition. On 22 August 2022, the Turkish Press Advertisement Agency, whose budget comes from tax money, banned Evrensel from receiving any public announcements and advertisements. This tactic is aimed at making a newspaper financially unviable. In response we filed a lawsuit, which is currently underway.

    The new press law, which was recently introduced by the government under the pretext of ‘combating disinformation’, has led to a new period of repression of anyone who expresses a critical stance towards the regime. Lawsuits are filed against us for news and articles published in our print newspaper and on our website. Our website is frequently subjected to access-blocking orders.

    Are journalists from certain groups particularly vulnerable?

    The Kurdish media are under particularly strong attack. There is an ongoing conflict between the state and various Kurdish insurgent groups who demand either separation from Turkey or greater autonomy within Turkey. The government has increased pressure on Kurdish media, and on all Kurdish actors, after putting an end to negotiations. For example, Kurdish journalists have been arrested alongside legislators and politicians of the pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP), including the HDP’s co-presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, and mayors have been replaced by trustees. In April and early May alone, 34 Kurdish journalists and press workers have been arrested.

    How has the repression of press freedoms affected the popularity of the ruling regime?

    Your question reminds me of another important element of repression. In Turkey, insulting the president is punishable with prison sentences of up to six years. I am among the many journalists who have been tried for insulting the president; I was acquitted in 2019. This has been applied not only against journalists but also against social media users.

    But for a significant segment of AKP voters, media censorship or corruption allegations against the president are not that important. Only bad economic performance can result in the erosion of their support.

    On 14 May Turkey will hold a critical general election, both for president and parliament. The unity of the opposition has brought hope for a change. Right now, the prospect of a time when we will be able to breathe a little more freely again seems within reach.

    What kinds of domestic or international support do Turkish independent media and journalists currently receive, and what would help?

    There are several domestic journalists’ organisations in Turkey. For example, I am a member of the Journalists’ Union of Turkey and the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, the largest press unions in the country. In the last 15 to 20 years, various international journalists’ organisations have also provided important support, standing in solidarity with the independent press and journalists from Turkey, spreading awareness and advocating for our rights. It is very valuable for us that they follow the many cases of repression of critical media and include them in their countries’ political agenda.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Evrensel through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@EvrenselDaily and@fpolat69 onTwitter.


  • TURKEY: ‘Civilian refugees should not be used as political bargaining chips’

    Bassam AlahmadCIVICUS speaks with Bassam Alahmad, co-founder and executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), about the Turkish plan to return one million refugees to Syria.

    STJ is a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to documenting human rights violations to contribute to the prospects for justice, as well as training human rights activists and building capacity in areas including digital security and civic engagement.

    Why is the Turkish government making plans to return a million Syrian refugees to Syria?

    We do not know the exact reason behind the plan to return a million Syrians to Turkish-administered regions of Syria. But there are several possible reasons we can think of. First, Turkey will hold general elections next year, and every time elections approach, the ruling Justice and Development Party will try to draw attention outside Turkey in any way possible – by attacking other nations, creating problems with neighbouring countries or groups of people – to hide domestic failures.

    Second, the decision may be part of a wider strategy by the Turkish government concerning its engagement with northeast and northwest Syria, which aims to decrease the presence of Kurds and other populations who it doesn’t view as ‘Turkey’s allies’ – people that Turkey does not like having at its borders. To achieve this, Turkey will make claims that these populations are ‘terrorists’.

    The decision announced to return a million Syrians from Turkey back to Syria therefore hits two birds with one stone. It would allow the Turkish government to show its domestic opposition that it is tackling the ‘problem’ while also using Syrians against Syrians in the northeast and northwest parts of Syria.

    To sum up, there is no specific reason we know of, but we can assume that demographic engineering in northeast and northwest Syria and Turkey’s domestic politics are all at play.

    How has this announcement impacted on Syrian refugees in Turkey?

    This policy has really affected Syrian refugees in Turkey. Every single day there is at least one case of assault against a Syrian person – sometimes more. Incidents of racism and cases of deportation and violence at the border, and even of murder, have been verified. Hundreds of organisations and media outlets have verified racist attacks against Syrians.

    Why are these attacks happening? Because the Turkish government is telling people that it has already spent too much on Syrians, and Turkish citizens are resenting it. The Turkish government is also telling people that it has freed areas in Syria from terrorists and they are now safe for return, so Turkish citizens are increasingly putting pressure on Syrian refugees to leave. Turkish public opinion turning against Syrians makes them vulnerable to racism and deportation.

    The discourse that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is disseminating is affecting Syrian refugees very negatively. And the problem is that it is not true. The United Nations, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Amnesty International and many others have all said that Syria is not safe.

    How do you assess Turkey’s immigration policy?

    Many countries and organisations say that Turkey should be thanked for its treatment of Syrian refugees; however, Turkey’s 2016 agreement with the European Union was a really bad one, because as a result Syrian refugees were trapped or detained in Turkey so that the Turkish government could receive money for hosting them.

    Syrian refugees and asylum seekers have been used as political game pieces ever since. Following this agreement, in which Europeans agreed to pay money to Turkey to keep Syrians from advancing through Greece and further into Europe, there have been multiple instances of disagreements between Europe and Turkey leading to threats against refugees.

    This is not good. You can’t keep using civilian refugees as political bargaining chips, using them against Turkey, or against the Kurds in northeast and northwest Syria, or against the Americans in northeast Syria. But the 2016 agreement gave the Turkey government leverage to use refugees as a political card, and they have used it. And by the way, Turkey is not the only country using refugees this way, and Syrian refugees are not the only refugees who have been used. Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees have had similar experiences, but this is especially true for Syrian refugees.

    Do you think the attitude of the Turkish government points to a broader European pattern?

    Of course, the Turkish refugee policy has a lot in common with refugee policies around the world. I do not want to say that all European governments treat refugees the same way as the Turkish government, but occasionally there are similarities.

    In particular, we all saw how European governments treated Ukrainian refugees – this was good. But they don’t treat Syrian refugees the same way. European countries gave Turkey money to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey, while they opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees.

    We do not want to paint all the Turkish and European politicians and policies with the same brush, but there are patterns of racist refugee policies and racist attacks against refugees that are important to recognise.

    How has Syrian civil society responded to the announcement by the Turkish government?

    Unfortunately, the civil society response has not been unified. Many Syrian CSOs that do not have employees or offices in Turkey have published reports about this plan; however, Syrian CSOs in Turkey have not been able to speak out, for a number of reasons. In some cases, organisations are politically aligned with Turkey and welcome these policies. But many others want to speak out against these policies – the racism, the deportations, the military actions against Syrians within Syria – but they are unable to for security reasons.

    In other words, some people don’t want to speak up because they are essentially in agreement with Turkish policies, while others would want to but cannot because it is dangerous, as they are in Turkey, where speaking out may result in deportation or arrest. There are also some Turkish organisations that address these issues, but many do not have the interests of Syrian refugees in mind.

    It is key for Turkish organisations to speak out and insist that Syria is not safe for refugees to return. There has been limited discussion about Turkey’s rights violations against Syrians, and this should not be the case. Both domestic and international civil society should speak out against violations occurring in Turkey and committed by Turkey.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Syrians for Truth and Justice through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@STJ_SYRIA_ENG and@BassamAlahmed on Twitter.


  • TURKEY: ‘If we withdraw from Istanbul Convention, it means we don't believe in gender equality’

    In the run-up to the 25th anniversary of theBeijing Platform for Action, due in September 2020, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the progress achieved and the challenges ahead. Focused on eliminating violence against women (VAW), ensuring access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, removing barriers to women’s participation in decision-making and providing decent jobs and equal pay for equal work, the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted at the United Nations’ (UN)Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. After 25 years, significant but unequal progress has occurred, not least as the result of incessant civil society efforts, but no country has yet achieved gender equality.


  • TURKEY: ‘It is just not possible to respond to such a large-scale disaster effectively without civil society’

    Gözde Kazaz 1 1CIVICUS speaks with Gözde Kazaz, Communications Officer at Support to Life, about the way Turkish civil society has responded to the recent earthquakes and the support it needs to provide an effective emergency response.

    Support to Life is an independent humanitarian civil society organisation (CSO) that helps disaster-affected communities meet their basic needs and advance their rights by providing emergency assistance, refugee support, child protection and capacity building. Founded in 2005, it adheres to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence and accountability in delivering aid.

    What damage have the recent earthquakes caused, and what has been the Turkish government’s response?

    The recent earthquakes affected 11 Turkish cities encompassing nearly 15 million people. This means the disaster affected roughly one in five people in Turkey. As of today, causalities have surpassed 44,000.

    In a disaster of such magnitude, public institutions had a problem in meeting needs and establishing coordination among the various state agencies involved. This was particularly the case in the first 72 hours, when search and rescue efforts are of the most vital importance. One of the reasons for this may be that infrastructure in the region was badly damaged and communication lines were cut off. The sites and staff of public institutions were themselves also affected.  We are currently seeing some improvements in coordination, but meeting the emerging needs in this vast disaster area is still very difficult. It is of great importance that the state, private sector and civil society work together on the basis of a healthy division of labour.

    How has civil society responded?

    Many CSOs that have useful expertise and work on disasters, Support to Life included, came together to form the Turkish Local NGO Humanitarian Forum (TIF) to coordinate delivery of aid and help meet the enormous needs we see in the field. Dividing responsibilities for various response areas according to each one’s expertise was an effective way to avoid duplication and deploy resources effectively.

    In addition, another coalition, the Disaster Platform, is active in the response. It is just not possible to respond to such a large-scale disaster effectively without civil society, and particularly without grassroots organisations active at the local level.

    Responding to disasters is one of the main things Support to Life does, so our emergency aid teams arrived in Hatay, one of the most affected provinces, right after the earthquakes hit on 6 February. We immediately deployed a humanitarian aid operation in the cities of Adana, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, and particularly in Hatay. Soon after, we expanded towards Adıyaman and Kahramanmaraş.

    We worked with partners to conduct needs assessments in affected areas, which we continue to carry out on an ongoing basis in order to monitor the response. Since the outset, the Greenpeace Mediterranean and Amnesty International call centre teams were particularly helpful in enabling the general due diligence and rapid needs assessment required in disaster-affected rural areas.

    We have focused much of our efforts on WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – by working to establish water and sanitation infrastructure in temporary shelters. We have also prioritised shelter, food security and the provision of mental health and psychosocial support.

    What reception have you had from the government?

    As a CSO working in the field, we have not encountered any government-imposed restriction. We have permission from the Ministry of Family and Social Services to deliver mental health and psychosocial support services in the disaster area. We provide WASH services in tent areas established and maintained by the Ministry of the Interior’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. We participate in coordination meetings with local authorities. In other words, we have a collaborative relationship and we at least have not faced any obstacles when doing our work.

    What role is international solidarity and support playing in responding to the emergency?

    This disaster once again showed the importance of international solidarity and international support channelled through both government and civil society. Responding to a disaster of this magnitude is only possible if there is a great deal of international solidarity that translates into resources.

    Ten days after the earthquake, the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched a three-monthflash appeal for US$1 billion for Turkey, aimed at supporting the government-led response and enabling humanitarian agencies to help more than five million people affected by the disaster. As of 27 February, barely seven per cent of the US$1 billion of the flash appeal, roughly US$73 million, has materialised.

    TIF formed immediately after the UN appeal and has since played an important role in coordinating civil society humanitarian efforts and helping local CSOs access resources, including by engaging with the OCHA system. Support to Life regularly attends strategic meetings under the coordination of OCHA, representing TIF.

    But three weeks on from the earthquake, serious humanitarian needs remain in the most severely affected areas, especially emergency shelter, WASH, food and non-food items such as plastic sheeting, cooking sets, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats and sanitary items. 

    What further support do Turkish CSOs need to keep doing this work?

    What Turkish CSOs working to respond to the disaster need right now is as much financial support as they can get.

    Humanitarian CSOs working in the field, Support to Life included, have noted that this is not a one-off or short-term but a continuous, long-term situation. We need to think about recovery, which will require lots of resources. This means a lot more financial support will be needed.

    As an independent humanitarian CSO, Support to Life carries out its operations with funding that comes mostly from international donors such as UN agencies including UNICEF – the UN Children’s Fund – and UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – and theDirectorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Danish Refugee Council, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe – a German faith-based humanitarian assistance agency – Save The Children and Terre des Hommes, among others. We are working with our donors to revise our ongoing projects so that we can redirect resources towards disaster response.

     Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Support to Life through itswebsite,Instagram orFacebook page, and follow@Support2Life on Twitter.



  • TURKEY: ‘Refugees are the perfect scapegoat in times of crisis’

    Dilan AkbayırCIVICUS speaks with Dilan Akbayır, a social worker who works with Syrian refugees, about Turkey’s plan to send refugees back to Syria and the rise of anti-refugee sentiment and racism against Syrians in Turkey.

    Dilan collaborates with several Istanbul-based civil society organisations (CSOs), including the Women’s Health and Planning Foundation.

    What prompted the Turkish government to announce a plan to send a million Syrian refugees back to Syria?

    I think the change in the government’s position on immigration has a lot to do with the 2023 general elections and the context of severe economic crisis that Turkey is going through, with very high inflation and the Turkish lira falling to its lowest level in history. Both the ruling party and the opposition have already started their campaigns, which are also taking place in a context of increased restrictions on personal rights and freedoms, severe inhibition of the freedom of expression, and the use of unlawful evidence in judicial proceedings.

    Turkey is the country with the world’s highest population of migrants and refugees. More than six million Syrians were forcibly displaced after the Syrian revolution broke out in 2011, and most of them flew to neighbouring Turkey. The official number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is over 3.7 million, but the total is estimated to be over five million.

    It is not surprising that migration and the future of refugees have become the main agenda item in Turkish politics. Refugees are the perfect scapegoat in times of crisis. Politicians are using the issue to redirect people’s anger towards refugees instead of blaming the politicians who have not been able to address their concerns. Opinion polls are showing that the only thing that unites Turkish society is anger towards refugees – anti-refugee sentiment is the glue that keeps the new Turkey together. People are driven to believe refuges are responsible for everything that is wrong in the country and given the illusion that everything will be okay if refugees are taken out of the way.

    In the context of an election campaign, any politician who most believably promises they will take care of this issue is likely to win. This is not exceptional to Turkey: we are seeing similar situations throughout Europe, as was recently the case with the French elections. Far-right politics are rising globally thanks to hostility towards refugees, immigrants and other minorities.

    Are there any legal grounds for the new anti-refugee policy?

    There are no legal grounds for the new anti-refugee policy. The international conventions to which Turkey is a state party, and Turkey’s domestic legislation, all stipulate the prohibition of refoulement. This means that refugees should not be sent back to countries where there is a danger of persecution, war, crisis, ill-treatment or torture. If this is not legal, then why have Turkish authorities and politicians announced a plan to return a million Syrians back to their country?

    There is a lot of confusion about the legal situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, which has been under discussion for years. When the mass flow of Syrians began there was a legal gap that was later filled by two new laws: the 2013 Law on Foreigners and International Protection and the 2014 Temporary Protection Regulation. As a result, Syrians’ presence in Turkey began to be referred to as ‘temporary’. People started saying that Syrians are just passing by, waiting to move on to a third, more developed country.

    For the past decade, politicians have systematically emphasised the ‘temporary’ status of refugees living in Turkey – but in the meantime, refugees have made a life here, and they want to stay. Moreover, even if they remain under temporary protection, it still holds that certain conditions must be met before they can be sent back to Syria. The United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency has established that the return of asylum seekers must be dignified, safe and voluntary.

    For refugees to be returned, the UN should declare the region a safe zone for return, which has not happened. The UN considers Syria to be unsafe due to the ongoing violence, human rights violations and desperate humanitarian situation: 14.6 million people need humanitarian assistance and more than 12 million are struggling to find enough food. Ninety per cent of the population is below the poverty line and the country is on the verge of famine.

    As reported by Amnesty International, between 2017 and 2021 some Syrians were returned from Jordan and Lebanon, and returnees faced serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, kidnapping, torture, sexual assault and extrajudicial killings. Returnees may even be charged with treason or terrorism for having fled. Although armed conflict has decreased, the environment is still not safe.

    Do you think this is part of a broader pattern?

    It is not only in Turkey that migration and refugees have become highly charged political topics; this is happening in many European countries. More developed countries in particular were supposed to side with human rights and take much more responsibility in hosting refugees fleeing wars in Syria and other Middle East countries. But their policies have been mostly exclusionary and discriminatory.

    We just saw the rise of far-right politics hostile toward refugees, immigrants and minorities in the 2022 French election. In Denmark, a country of 5.8 million, only 35,000 of 500,000 refugees are Syrian, but in 2021 the Danish government decided not to renew their residence permits claiming that parts of Syria are safe. It is also planning to start processing asylum petitions in Uganda, in a plan very similar to the British government’s plan to process theirs in Rwanda.

    Following a UN resolution, the international community agreed to share responsibilities for the resettlement of refugees, but numbers tell a different story: the rate of resettlement in European countries is quite low compared to Turkey. This exposes the European Union’s externalisation policy, aimed at preventing irregular migration into Europe by ensuring that refugees stay in Turkey. This is not fair and causes more problems for developing countries such as Turkey, which experience more pronounced economic, social and political crises.

    How has the announcement of the new policy impacted on Syrian refugees living in Turkey?

    A majority of Syrians in Turkey don’t want to return to their country. Even as they are being increasingly scapegoated, over the years they have changed their view on a possible return. In 2017, 60 per cent of Syrian refugees surveyed in Turkey said they wanted to return to their country as soon as the war is over. Currently, 80 per cent say they do not want to go back because they have already established life in Turkey, and they think life will not go back to normal in Syria even if the war ends.

    However, many do not feel so safe in Turkey anymore. The political rhetoric around sending back Syrian refugees goes hand in hand with growing anti-refugee sentiment fuelled by the increased visibility of Syrians in Turkish society. The majority live in big cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, and as the refugee population grows, they start to be seen as a problem or a threat.

    In contrast, when Syrians started to arrive in Turkey in 2012, society welcomed them. At that time, a major factor leading to acceptance was emphasis on their ‘temporary’ status, supported by the authorities’ discourse referring to them as ‘guests’. Eleven years later, growing socio-economic problems that the government has not taken seriously began to reflect on Syrian refugees.

    As exclusionary nationalist discourse spiked, Syrians were placed at the root of domestic problems. According to a recent report by the Center for Migration Studies at Ankara University, 85 per cent of surveyed people in Turkey want Syrians to be returned or isolated, as they view them as potentially causing more problems in the future.

    Moreover, anti-refugee groups are using the media to disseminate xenophobic propaganda. They stir feelings of national and racial superiority and raise concerns regarding cultural integration, presenting attacks on refugees as a way to defend the homeland. They insist the presence of Syrians is having negative effects on public safety and the country’s demography and economic prospects. Syrian refugees are blamed for growing restrictions on women’s freedoms and increasing rates of murder and rape. These issues are easily used to manipulate the public.

    How has Turkish civil society responded?

    In the face of increasing anti-refugee rhetoric, some civil society groups and activists, including women’s rights organisations, artists and academics, have expressed solidarity through public statements and by holding events such as anti-racist panels.

    However, given the wider anti-refugee political climate, many CSOs did not make any statements against anti-refugee discourse. Sadly, some institutions working with refugees stopped their activities in response to increasing hostility. Others decided to continue their work more quietly. Civic space in getting narrower for us.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. 


  • TURKEY: ‘The government does not tolerate opinions different from its own’

    ErenKeskinCIVICUS speaks with lawyer Eren Keskin, chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), about the Turkish government’s attacks on critical media and the state of press freedoms in the context of Turkey’s current elections.

    Founded in 1986, IHD is one of Turkey’s oldest and largest human rights civil society organisations. It documents human rights violations and campaigns for the protection of human rights and civic freedoms in Turkey.

    What are the conditions for journalism in Turkey?

    Problems in the area of freedom of expression have existed in Turkey since the foundation of the republic. From the very beginning there were issues that the republic’s official ideology of Turkish-Islamic synthesis prohibited speaking about. Issues such as the Kurdish conflict, the 1915 Armenian Genocide and, later on, Turkey’s military presence in Cyprus, have long been forbidden topics.

    What’s changed under the present government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party is that the opposition’s freedom of expression has been severely restricted across the board. As a result, obstacles have mounted for opposition journalists to express their views.

    The government does not tolerate opinions different from its own. It recklessly issues arrest warrants for articles, speeches and social media messages if they express diverging opinions. The state of Turkey recognises freedom of expression in its domestic legislation and is bound to respect it as a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it continues to violate its own laws and the international conventions and covenants it has signed.

    What tactics does the government use against independent media and how have you been affected?

    Because it does not tolerate any kind of diverging opinion, the government is extremely aggressive towards independent media and the free press, the majority of which are Kurdish media outlets.

    Dissident journalists are commonly charged with making propaganda for an illegal organisation. Particularly with news reports on the Kurdish war, most lawsuits are filed on charges of making propaganda for the Kurdish political movement or Kurdish armed forces. Apart from this, a large number of cases are filed on charges of insulting the president, insulting the forces of the state and inciting the public to hatred and enmity.

    Many journalists are under arrest or subject to international travel bans merely for expressing their thoughts in writing. There is almost no journalist who is not being subjected to judicial control.

    I was once the volunteer editor-in-chief of the daily Özgür Gündem, one of the newspapers that has faced the most repression, and have stood trial in 143 cases just because my name appeared on the newspaper as volunteer editor-in-chief.

    I’ve been sentenced to a total of 26 years and nine months in prison for alleged crimes such as membership of an illegal organisation, making propaganda for an illegal organisation and insulting the president, even for articles I did not write. These sentences are pending a decision of the Court of Cassation. As soon as they are final, I may go to prison. I have also been unable to travel abroad for six years now because of an international travel ban.

    Has the intensification of repression affected the popularity of the president in any way?

    Considering that the ruling regime is the main culprit for all the rights violations currently taking place in Turkey, and that power is concentrated in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it must be admitted that the main perpetrator of rights violations is the president himself. The judiciary is completely dependent on the president. Judges and prosecutors render compliant decisions out of fear. Where judges and prosecutors are afraid, it is unthinkable for the judiciary to be independent.

    The president’s attitude towards the press, especially the opposition press, and the language of hatred and violence he uses, does not detract from his popularity but is instead a major reason his followers support him. However, we think that a large part of society, hopefully a growing part, is also disturbed by his blatant violations of freedom of expression.

    What do you make of the results of the 14 May general election?

    The AKP had relative success in the presidential and parliamentary elections held on 14 May. The president did better than expected, considering the economic situation and the criticism he’s faced over the response to the earthquakes in February. His party has maintained control of parliament. But he didn’t win re-election outright: he received 49.5 per cent of the vote while his opposition challenger, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) received almost 45 per cent. Now there’s going to be a runoff on 28 May.

    None of this should come as a surprise. Society has become extremely polarised, especially as a result of Erdoğan’s rhetoric of fear, hatred and violence. We also witnessed many practices that violated the constitution and electoral laws, such as government ministers becoming parliamentary candidates without resigning and therefore using state resources for campaigning. The ruling party monopolises a large part of the media and used it exclusively on its own behalf. The elections were therefore held under extremely unequal conditions.

    It’s hard to predict what the outcome of the runoff will be. The election may end in favour of Erdoğan or Kılıçdaroğlu. Much will depend on the practices that develop during the election.

    How will the situation of vulnerable minorities in Turkey be affected by the election results?

    Erdoğan uses language that is completely against human rights and the AKP has retained its parliamentary majority by coalescing with an extremist party. The situation will become dangerous if Erdoğan wins once again, especially for women, LGBTQI+ people and Kurdish people.

    Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence – has already affected the feminist movement a lot. Now Law No. 6,284 on violence against women is being questioned. This poses a great danger for women and LGBTQI+ people.

    Similarly, if Erdoğan wins again, pro-security approaches to the Kurdish issue will continue to dominate, preventing progress towards peace.

    As for Syrian asylum-seekers, the AKP presents itself as having provided a good environment for them, but it is not really the case. Asylum-seekers in Turkey do not qualify as refugees because of the state’s reservation to the 1951 Refugee Convention. They are subjected to racist attacks. They work as cheap labour in extremely difficult conditions. Women and girls live under permanent risk of violence. An AKP win will not give them a chance.

    But it must be noted that the CHP’s proposal regarding refugees is not any more democratic or inclusive, and its discourse also has racist overtones. Therefore, first and foremost, the discriminatory, double-standard approach to the Refugee Convention should be questioned.

    What kinds of domestic or international support do Turkish independent media and journalists currently receive, and what more would you need?

    Journalists working in independent media in Turkey, and especially in Kurdistan, are clearly not receiving sufficient international support. The Republic of Turkey is a state party to many international conventions that guarantee freedoms of expression and the press. The state has committed to respecting them on paper, but it violates them in practice. All these conventions have monitoring mechanisms, but unfortunately, they are not being properly implemented for Turkey. In this sense, the European Union has left Turkey alone.

    We believe that Turkey should be questioned more, especially by western media organisations and by Turkey’s co-signatory states of international rights conventions, to contribute to the lifting of repressive measures against the dissident press.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Human Rights Association through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@ihd_genelmerkez on Twitter.


  • TURKEY: ‘We continue to organise and demonstrate so that no voice is left unheard’

    CIVICUS speaks about International Women’s Day and Turkish civil society’s role in eliminating gender inequality with the team of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, a Turkish civil society organisation (CSO) aimed at ending femicide and ensuring women are protected from violence.

    We Will Stop Femicide was founded in response to rising levels of femicide in Turkey. It provides assistance to women exposed to GBV and promotes legal action against perpetrators. It contributes to raising awareness about GBV by collecting data on femicides and sharing it with the public, organising meetings and holding protests, and assists families of femicide victims in their quest for justice.


    How has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated GBV in Turkey?

    The COVID-19 pandemic made many pre-existing inequalities more visible. It had a negative impact in terms of social inequalities, GBV and ultimately femicide. Especially during lockdown, many women had to stay at home with their perpetrators for a long time.

    While in many countries extra measures were taken when this happened, we never saw them in Turkey. Even the announcement of the official hotline, KADES, was made too late. All of this has had an impact on femicide rates. In addition, there’s been an increase in suspicious deaths of women – cases in which murder is suspected but it cannot be determined conclusively whether there’s been a natural death, a suicide or a murder. These are another face of femicide.

    In sum, since we coexist with so many inequalities, we cannot be completely sure when we attribute these changes exclusively to the pandemic, but everything points to the pandemic having made things worse. We will definitely continue to follow the data to understand this better.

    What role has Turkish civil society played in advocating against femicide, both before and during the pandemic?

    There has been a growing movement against femicides in Turkey. As a result of this pandemic - that we do not know when it will end – our struggle will grow even larger and the voice against femicide will spread louder and further.

    Precisely under the pandemic, when GBV was denounced by many as a pandemic of its own, our government withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This is a regional human rights instrument aimed at protecting women against GBV and holding perpetrators accountable, and with this withdrawal we have lost an important tool to hold our own government accountable for what it is doing – or not doing – to protect women.

    The process of withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was shameful. It happened overnight and was the result of the arbitrary decision of one person, President Erdoğan. He announced his decision in March 2021, and the withdrawal took effect in July. A legal instrument that recognised women as free and equal and sought to ensure us a life free of violence was dismissed at a single stroke. This marked an incredible regression for Turkish women.

    But it also provoked a welcome progressive reaction. On top of the pandemic conditions that disproportionately affected women and the government’s increasingly misogynistic policies, the termination of the Istanbul Convention galvanised society against femicide and GBV. People demonstrated in streets, public squares, schools and workplaces to stand up for the Istanbul Convention and women’s right to be treated as free and equals. Nothing will ever be the same after that.

    We continue to organise for our right to be recognised as free and equal and to live a life free of violence. We keep telling more and more women about their rights and freedoms. We continue to organise meetings and mass protests so that no voice is left unheard.

    What else is the We Will Stop Femicide Platform doing?

    As members of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, we organise mass demonstrations in various places such as streets or squares, schools and factories and other workplaces, depending on the topic on the agenda. This is one of the most important ways in which we can make our voices heard.

    In addition, we use social media for our campaigns. In this way, we not only follow the agenda, we also inform the public about our work and invite people to take part in our struggle. Our YouTube channel, Yaşasın Kadınlar, which we have just started, has made an important contribution in that regard and we think it will become even more effective in the future. We use it to share the current women’s rights agenda, answer questions and make our own assessment of political developments.

    In addition, we have Women Assemblies in many of Turkey’s provinces, so our struggle continues there through meetings, mass demonstrations and social media work. We have also launched a publication, Eşitlikçi Feminizm, to advance our struggle.

    Of course, the pandemic has had an impact on our work, and our face-to-face work has decreased. However, technological progress has enabled us to carry out much of our work from home. Our YouTube channel and new publication have been important steps forward during the pandemic.

    What should the Turkish government do to curb femicide?

    The Turkish government knows what it should do, because the Istanbul Convention explains, one by one, each of the steps that need to be followed to prevent femicides.

    First, it needs to create an environment that is not conducive to GBV. All the anti-women and anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric needs to end – but unfortunately it continues.

    Second, it needs to protect women in environments where various forms of violence occur. However, we see that protection measures are not actively and fully implemented.

    Third, incidents of violence need to be prosecuted and punished effectively. And of course, it is necessary to have a policy based on the principle of gender equality to guide all these. 

    All state institutions should be doing all this. While the Istanbul Convention was in force, we took to the courts and protested in the streets to demand the enforcement of each and every article of the Convention. Many women’s lives were saved thanks to the Istanbul Convention. Now that the Istanbul Convention is not in force in Turkey any more, what we have left is Law No. 6284 of 2012, the Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women. We will continue to fight for the implementation of the contents of the Istanbul Convention, whether the Convention itself is in force or not.

    The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How are you organising around it in the communities you work with?

    On 8 March we are holding mass demonstrations all over Turkey with the slogan ‘We will not live in the grip of poverty and in the shadow of violence, you will never walk alone’. Recently, we have been going through a serious economic crisis with increasing inflation. Rising violence against women and growing poverty are interconnected. We will be in streets and squares all over the country looking at the issue as a whole and demanding integrated solutions.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the We Will Stop Femicide Platform through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@kadincinayeti on Twitter.


  • Turkey: CIVICUS joins call for the release journalist Sedef Kabaş

    We join the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) and other press freedom organisations and journalists in calling on Turkey to release senior journalist Sedef Kabaş.