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Turkey Table of Contents


Individual Rights

Under the martial-law regime established after the 1980 coup, Turkey's citizens suffered a serious curtailment of normal civil rights. Starting in 1983, when parliamentary elections were held, the government gradually lifted restraints on individual liberties and progressively withdrew martial law from major cities and provinces. Restrictions on the press were removed in 1985, making it permissible to publish all views except those banned by the penal code. The 1987 state of emergency declared in ten southeastern provinces where the government faced terrorist violence allowed the civilian governor to exercise certain powers verging on martial law, including warrantless searches and restrictions on the press.

Although progress has been made in reducing human rights abuses since the military government period, mistreatment by the police in the form of beatings and torture has remained a seemingly intractable problem. Reports of illegal practices, in some cases extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, and disappearances, have become more widespread since 1992, when violence resulting from the Kurdish insurgency reached unprecedented levels. The Turkish government has renewed previous pledges to end the use of torture by the security forces, but little has been achieved in curbing the excesses of the police and military.

The widespread evidence of torture and severe ill-treatment of detainees has been condemned by numerous international groups, such as the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the United Nations Committee on Torture. Within Turkey, illegal police activities have been monitored by the Human Rights Association since that organization received official approval in 1987. The association subsequently attracted a membership of about 20,000 and opened branches in fifty of the provincial capitals. The companion Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, established in 1990, operates torture-rehabilitation centers in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul, and serves as a clearinghouse for human rights information. Besides enduring government-imposed restrictions, the Human Rights Association has seen nine people associated with the organization slain. The group's leadership has charged that nearly half of its offices have been forced to close because of police pressure.

The Human Rights Foundation has claimed that government security forces were responsible for ninety-one extrajudicial killings during the first nine months of 1993, and that security forces were implicated in many of the 291 "mystery killings" during the same period. Perhaps twenty persons died in official custody, some allegedly as a result of torture. Other killings occurred during raids on terrorist safe houses, or when deadly force was used against unarmed civilians participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish human rights advocates believe that most persons charged with political crimes undergo torture, usually while in incommunicado detention in the hands of the police or gendarmerie before being brought before a court. About half of the ordinary criminal suspects are thought to undergo torture while under police interrogation. In the event that law enforcement officers are charged in torture cases, the sentences imposed are generally light or the cases drag on for years.

The constitution guarantees inviolability of the domicile and privacy of communications except upon issuance of a judicial warrant. However, in the southeastern provinces that are under state of emergency the governor may authorize warrantless search. In these areas, security personnel at roadblocks regularly search travelers and vehicles in an effort to apprehend smugglers and terrorists.

University students and faculty members may not be members of political parties or become involved in political activities. Youth branches of political parties are forbidden, and the university rector must grant permission for a student to join any association. Political activity by trade unions is also banned. Thus, unions may neither endorse candidates nor make contributions to their campaigns; they are, however, able to make known their opposition to or support of political parties and government policies. Collective bargaining and strikes are strictly regulated. Unions must have government permission to hold meetings and rallies but are permitted to organize workplaces freely and to engage in collective bargaining (see Human Resources and Trade Unions, ch. 3; Political Interest Groups, ch. 4).

In March 1994, seven Kurdish legislators were arrested on the parliament grounds. Indictments were prepared against them for writings and speeches deemed supportive of Kurdish separatism. The incident aroused considerable controversy both domestically and internationally; all seven assembly members were given long prison terms in late 1994.

Freedom of conscience and religious belief is guaranteed by the constitution, as is private dissemination of religious ideas. However, religious activity is strictly supervised in accordance with the principles of secularism and separation of church and state. No political party advocating a theocracy or government founded on religious principles is permitted. The operation of churches, monasteries, synagogues, and schools must be approved by the state. Armenian and Greek churches are carefully monitored, and prosecutors have brought charges of proselytism against Islamists and evangelical Christian groups deemed to have political overtones. Courts have not been sympathetic to such charges, but the police have acted against some evangelical Christians by refusing to renew their residence permits and expelling them.

Penal System

The civil penal system is administered by the General Directorate of Prisons and Houses of Detention in the Ministry of Justice. There is a prison or jail in almost every town and at least one in every district. The older penal institutions include most of the town and district jails and the larger provincial prisons in use since Ottoman times. These are gradually being supplemented by newer "penitentiary labor establishments" whose distinguishing feature is the availability of equipment for labor. Prison labor is compulsory for all in old and new prisons. Prisoners are allowed to send up to one-half of their prison earnings to a dependent; part is withheld for rations, and the remainder goes to the prisoner upon discharge. Prisons were previously known to be overcrowded, but the apparent reduction in jail sentences for common crimes and the commutation of longer sentences may have mitigated the problem.

According to official data, the number of convicts in prisons declined from more than 46,000 in 1984 to 10,656 in 1991. The drop in the prison population took place mainly between 1986 and 1991, when mass releases occurred. When the large number sentenced to prison is compared with the small prison population at any one time, it appears that many convicts serve sentences of only a few months. Persons classified as political prisoners or terrorists are apparently regarded separately because more than 32,000 were incarcerated in 1991 under the "special laws" category.

By and large, Turks accept the Muslim view that crime is a willful act and thus regard penalties as punishment for the act and as a means to deter similar acts, not as instruments of rehabilitation or reeducation. There has been a trend among some specialists and Turkish officials to view criminal acts as the product of social conditions and therefore to emphasize rehabilitation, but this view has had only limited influence on penal practice.

Whereas torture of both political and ordinary prisoners by security forces is a deep-rooted problem, much of it occurs prior to court hearings. Incidents arising from mistreatment in prisons have been decreasing in recent years. However, in two cases mentioned in 1992 by the international human rights group Amnesty International, large numbers of prisoners were beaten, some seriously, for protesting against prison disciplinary measures.

After widespread hunger strikes in 1989, the minister of justice introduced a number of reforms to improve prison conditions, including an end to corporal punishment, bread-and-water diets, and solitary confinement in unlighted cells. The government, however, continued to be faced with domestic and international criticism and subsequently announced a prison reform bill in 1993. At the end of 1994, parliament had not enacted promised prison reforms.

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Discussion in this chapter of the size, organization, and armaments of the Turkish armed forces is based in part on The Military Balance, 1994-1995 , published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and on Jane's Fighting Ships, 1994-95 Additional material can be found in the section on Turkey by Mark Stenhouse in Jane's NATO Handbook, 1991-92 .

An authoritative statement by Turkish chief of staff General Dogan Güres on the new strategy and restructuring of the armed forces is contained in the June 1993 issue of the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies . Graham E. Fuller and other authors address Turkey's changed geostrategic situation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in Turkey's New Geopolitics: From the Balkans to Western China . Turkish military leaders analyze the missions and capabilities of the individual service branches in a series of articles in a special 1993 issue of NATO's Sixteen Nations called "Defence of Turkey."

A book by a noted Turkish journalist, Mehmet Ali Birand, Shirts of Steel: An Anatomy of the Turkish Armed Forces , provides previously unfamiliar details on the military education system, military traditions and institutions, and the perspectives and aspirations of career officers.

Discussion of Turkey's human rights record can be found in publications by Amnesty International and in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published by the United States Department of State. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of January 1995

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Turkey Table of Contents