Hundreds of people were detained because of their non-violent political activities; most were released after a short period of police detention but others were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. Torture was commonplace, although there was evidence that the pattern of routine torture of people detained under the Anti-Terror Law had been disrupted. There were at least 10 reported deaths in custody apparently as a result of torture. Five people reportedly "disappeared" and at least 15 people were killed in circumstances suggesting that they had been extrajudicially executed. There were no judicial executions, although courts continued to pass death sentences. Armed opposition groups committed at least 39 deliberate and arbitrary killings of prisoners and civilians.

A coalition government was headed by the Motherland Party leader Mesut Ylmaz. Other partners were the Democratic Left Party and the Democratic Turkey Party. State of emergency legislation remained in force in six provinces of the southeast, where the 14-year conflict between government forces and armed members of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) claimed 2,000 lives, including civilians, during the year.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld a number of complaints against Turkey. In several cases it ruled that the Turkish authorities had not properly investigated allegations of extrajudicial execution, including official com-plaints by Esref Yasa that state agents were involved in an armed attack on him and a fatal attack on his brother Hasim Yasa in 1993. The ECHR also found that Salih Tekin, a journalist, had been blindfolded, threatened with death and beaten by gendarmerie officers in 1993 at Derinsu Gendarme Station in Mardin province.

Demonstrators, including human rights defenders, students and Islamists, were frequently taken into custody from peaceful public meetings or their organization's offices, and held for hours or days in police detention solely because of their non-violent political activities.

Prison sentences were imposed on many people who had non-violently criticized the government's policies towards the Kurdish minority. Charges were mainly brought under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law which outlaws any advocacy of "separatism", and Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) which deals with "incitement to hatred". In July, while still recovering from an attempted assassination (see below), Akin Birdal, President of the Human Rights Association (HRA), was sentenced to one year's imprisonment under Article 312 for a speech he had made on World Peace Day in 1996. The sentence was confirmed in October, but postponed for some months. Zeynep Baran, President of the Foundation for Solidarity with Kurdish Women, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment under Article 312 because of a pamphlet she published introducing the organization. The sentence was confirmed by the Appeal Court in November.

Article 312 was also used against people who criticized the government from a religious point of view. In April Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mayor of Istanbul, was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment for a speech he had delivered in December 1997. The indictment referred specifically to four lines, a rallying call to Islam, quoted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan from a poem by Ziya Gökalp. The lines, which did not advocate violence, appear in a book recommended by the Ministry of Education. The sentence was confirmed at appeal in September. One consequence of the sentence was a ban from politics; it appeared that this may have been the principal motivation for the prosecution. Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been considered a serious candidate for the leadership of the Islamist Fazilet (Virtue) party.

Writer and biologist Edip Polat was imprisoned in April to serve a 10-month sentence under Article 159 of the TPC for "insulting the organs of state". He was released in August after serving his sentence with remission. Lawyer Esber Yagmurdereli was imprisoned in June to serve the remainder of a 10-month sentence under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law for a speech he made in 1991. As a consequence of this conviction he also lost remission on the remainder – 16 years – of a previous life sentence imposed after an unfair trial.

In June journalist Ragp Duran began serving a 10-month prison sentence imposed in December 1995 for a 1994 interview with the leader of the PKK.

Turkey continued not to recognize the right of conscientious objection to military service. Conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke, Chairperson of the Izmir War Resisters' Association, remained in custody throughout the year, serving sentences for "alienating the public from the institution of military service", "persistent insubordination" and "desertion".

As a result of the revised detention procedures which were introduced for people detained under the Anti-Terror Law, detainees were generally held for shorter periods than in previous years. In law, such detainees are permitted access to their lawyers, a vital safeguard against torture, only after the fourth day of detention. In practice, this access continued frequently to be denied or so limited as to be virtually meaningless.

The reduction in the overall number of reports of torture noted in 1997 appeared to have been sustained. Nevertheless, well-documented reports of torture by police and gendarmes (soldiers carrying out police duties, mainly in rural areas) were very common. Male and female detainees frequently complained that they were sexually assaulted. Victims of torture again included children.

Cengiz Süslü, who had absconded from military service, was detained in Istanbul in May. After seven days' incommunicado interrogation he was taken to hospital and had to be fitted with a colostomy bag because his bowel had been perforated by a hard object inserted into his anus. When he spoke to a lawyer – after he had been denied access to a lawyer for more than two weeks – he reported that electric shocks had been administered to his genitals during interrogation and that a truncheon had been forced into his anus.

Relatives of victims of "disappearance" who continued to hold a vigil every Saturday in the Galatasaray district of Istanbul were repeatedly harassed, detained and ill-treated by police. Hanm Tosun, whose husband Fehmi Tosun "disappeared" in Istanbul in October 1995, reported that she was beaten with a truncheon, punched and kicked when she was detained during a vigil in September. She was put by police with others in a vehicle. Video footage showed police spraying pepper gas into the vehicle and shutting the door, a potentially lethal action. Hanm Tosun and 30 other detainees needed hospital treatment after the incident.

There were at least 10 deaths in custody apparently as a result of torture. For example, in March, 18-year-old Mehmet Yavuz died after interrogation at Adana Police Headquarters in connection with a theft. Police authorities initially stated that he had died of a heart attack, but the autopsy indicated that the cause of death was "stomach trauma caused by a blow". Eleven police officers were detained and charged with torturing and killing Mehmet Yavuz. Their trial continued at Adana Criminal Court at the end of the year.

There were at least five "disappearances". They included a woman, Neslihan Uslu, and three men, Hasan Aydogan, Metin Andaç and Mehmet Mandal, who were last seen in Izmir in March. All four were known to the police and had reportedly been threatened with death and "disappearance". Neslihan Uslu and Hasan Aydogan were both wanted by the police after the Court of Appeal confirmed prison sentences against them for membership of an illegal armed organization. Mehmet Mazaca "disappeared" in October in Elazig. He was still suffering from the after-effects of torture inflicted in 1993 and was reportedly seen in custody in Elazig Police Headquarters.

In May Akin Birdal, President of the HRA, was shot by two gunmen at the association's headquarters in Ankara. Akin Birdal nearly died after being hit by six bullets. The attack followed publication by the authorities of spurious allegations about Akn Birdal, contained in confessions purported to have been made by a former military commander of the PKK and illegally leaked from the prosecutor's office. While Akin Birdal was still close to death, Prime Minister Yilmaz described the attack as an "internal dispute". In fact, seven men close to right- wing political groups – one of them a gendarmerie officer – were shortly afterwards arrested and charged with planning and carrying out the attempted killing.

At least 15 people were allegedly victims of extrajudicial executions. In May Ömer Dusak was taken from his home in Eyyübiye, Sanliurfa province, by people thought to be gendarmerie officers. The abduction was witnessed by the women of the house. Seven days later his body was found near Pinarbasi, Kayseri, with five bullet wounds in the head and body.

For the 14th consecutive year there were no judicial executions, although death sentences continued to be imposed.

Armed separatist and leftist organizations, including the PKK, the Turkish Workers and Peasants' Liberation Army (TIKKO) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), were responsible for at least 39 deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians and prisoners. Tacettin Asçi, treasurer of the Bursa branch of the HRA, and another man, Ahmet Aydn, were abducted in May by the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP). The organization later announced that the two had been "executed" as police informers. The HRA condemned the killing. Those who killed Tacettin Asçi and Ahmet Aydn did not hand over the bodies or reveal their whereabouts and it was feared that they may have died under torture. Amnesty International condemned these grave abuses and publicly called on armed opposition groups to ensure that their members are instructed to respect basic international humanitarian law standards.

Throughout the year Amnesty International appealed for the release of prisoners of conscience and urged the government to initiate prompt and independent investigations into allegations of torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances". Amnesty International reports published on Turkey during the year included, "Birds or earthworms" – the Güçlükonak massacre, its alleged cover-up and the prosecution of independent investigators in June, and Listen to the Saturday Mothers in November.

Amnesty International delegates observed several trial hearings, including the final hearing in the trial of a number of HRA officials at Ankara State Security Court who were accused of making separatist statements. The HRA officials were acquitted. Amnesty International delegates also attended the May hearing of a retrial at Izmir State Security Court of a group of high-school students convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on the basis of evidence extracted under torture (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998); the May and August hearings of a retrial of eight student campaigners found guilty of membership of an illegal armed organization and sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment after conducting a peaceful campaign for students' rights; and the October hearing in the trial of Hüzni Almaz, an asylum-seeker forcibly returned from Germany.

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